ROCKPORT — Parking meters in Rockport will undergo rate and time changes for a 90-day trial period, after selectmen voted Tuesday at a public hearing to double meter rates and change meter times at 98 parking spots in town for a trial period.
Motorists will pay $1 per hour for parking and will need to feed the meters between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. in the most high traffic areas of town for the duration of the trial. Meters will accept five hours worth of payment.
Some residents at Tuesday’s public hearing spoke in favor of the change, hoping the trial might solve Rockport’s long-running parking issues, while others, like Helen Raney opposed the meter modifications.
“Going up on the meters is a slap in the face to the residents,” Raney said at the hearing. “Residents don’t (usually) have a bit of say here for the meters. We do tonight, whether something comes of it remains to be seen.”
Selectmen said they held the hearing in order to listen to the residents and consider their opinions. Selectmen voted unanimously to change the rates, then changed the metered parking times on a 3-2 vote, with Erin Battistelli and Sarah Wilkinson dissenting.
“It just seems like baby steps might be good for this, and doubling the rates might be a big enough pill to swallow for now,” Wilkinson said.
This temporary change will be the town’s first parking meter rate modification in nine years.
The changes will apply to 39 electronic, credit card-accepting meters from parking and telecommunications company IPS Group. Selectmen decided in June to try the electronic meters from parking and telecommunications company IPS Group, but did not address rate and time changes in June. The town will also change rates, parking time limits, and active times on 59 additional meters across the town.
IPS provided the new meters for the trial free of charge to the town, but associated fees will cost the town about $1,700 during the trial. Selectmen say the trial will allow the traffic committee to analyze the high traffic areas, in search of a solution to the town’s long-standing parking problems.
Granite Street resident Wally Hess said he was hopeful that the trial might provide some insight.
“We have a parking problem in Rockport. We can’t magically make it go away,” Hess said. “We have to take what we’ve got and allocate it a lot better. This is a good experiment.”
The meter trial drew controversy in June when selectmen signed a contract with the IPS Group for the trial, not including rate and time changes, after discussing the trial at a public meeting, but before holding a hearing.
Selectmen in July had mistakenly told the Times that the rental meters were already programmed with the new rates and times, and the trial would be delayed if meters necessitated reprogramming.
Police Chief John “Tom” McCarthy said Wednesday that the meters “are very easily reprogrammed. We would have done it right onsite,” he said.
Toby Arsenian, a Granite Street resident, said he doubted that testimonies would affect the vote, claiming that the board’s mind was already made up.
“This proceeding might be characterized as a window dressing, or if you were being unkind, a charade or a farce,” Arsenian said.
But, selectmen said they used testimonies at the hearing to guide their decision on the details of the trial as they voted to move forward with it.
A downtown resident said paying the meters regularly costs a “hefty sum of money.” But, she said she was more concerned that residents who return from work to street parking at 5 p.m. would have to feed the meter, wait two hours, then go back and pay for another hour.
Selectmen hoped the extension from two hour limits on parking to five hours of payable time would allow residents to pay once, then stay inside for the night.
New meters will go in August 5 and the 90-day trial will complete at the end of October, in time for meters to come down and Christmas trees to go up in their place, according to McCarthy.
The meter-less winter months, with meters out until April, will give the board a chance to analyze trial data and meet with affected residents and groups, including representatives from Shalin Liu, which hosts patrons that come from afar and fill parking spaces, selectmen said.
Paul Murphy, a selectman, said Shalin Liu events often begin after the meters turn off at 6 p.m. now, but shifting the metered parking time to end at 8 p.m. will help officials capture revenue from Shalin Liu patrons by charging for parking during the events.
“You get lots of cars that come from Shalin Liu, and I’m a big supporter of the performing arts center, but at the same time we need to capitalize on those people coming in,” Murphy said. “We’ll get a better gauge if this is working if we include 8 o’clock. If we didn’t, I think the data would be a little skewed.”
Selectmen would need to hold another vote to make the trial program into a permanent change before re-installing meters and making the rate and time modifications permanent.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.