Downtown parking a 'disaster'

TIM JEAN/Staff photoSome drivers are having trouble understanding the parking signs in downtown Haverhill. 

When it comes to parking in Haverhill's downtown business district, city councilors say they want less talk and more action from Mayor James Fiorentini.

During last week's City Council meeting, Fiorentini came before the council for the second time in several months to discuss parking issues. At issue for the councilors — who say they've both experienced the parking woes themselves and spoken to residents who have — are things like broken meter kiosks and confusion over the rules.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien was among those to declare the parking issues a “disaster.”

“You can blame it on finances, but I don't think your parking commission has done enough to address the consistent problems,” Daly O'Brien said to the mayor. “You could have come to us and maybe we could have fixed the first six kiosks that went down. I'm not sure if I have a solution, but let's revisit what you want.”

Over the summer, Fiorentini spoke to the council with his ideas for parking enhancements. Those included things like two hours of free street parking from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., for example — though nothing was formalized.

Now, say councilors including William Macek, a “comprehensive plan for parking” must be instituted — and fast.

“Our downtown parking is a mess,” said Macek, who has long opposed paid parking in the downtown district.

“It isn't the same here or there and there is a lot of things that need to be addressed," he said. "It needs to be simple and we're at the point where we have to do something.”

Improvements related to parking have stalled in recent years since several councilors own property or have parking passes in the downtown area and must recuse themselves from votes related to the issue. Five votes are required, and often as many as four have had to sit out due to conflicts of interest.

To circumvent any conflicts of interest and invoke the so-called “Rule of Necessity,” it was decided last week that council members would each buy a parking pass, leaving them on an even political playing field so they can vote on parking-related matters.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan said the recusals — councilors not voting due to a conflict of interest — weren't as much the issue so much as a lack of action.

“We know that we need to make changes to the parking policy, so let's stop talking about it and take the mayor up on it his recommendation,” Sullivan said.

In the meantime, Sullivan said, Haverhill locals may just need to have a little more patience.

“At the end of the day, people are going to learn to walk to their destinations,” he said. “I grew up when people would park in front of where they were going and if if they couldn't park in front, they wouldn't go. The majority of Haverhill residents (seem to) understand that if you want to go to a nice restaurant, you might have to walk to it.”

Fiorentini said he intends to reconvene his parking commission and take steps to address councilors' points.


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