City prepares to shift to more short-term and permit parking downtown

By Randi B. Hagi, assistant editor

Those who work and live in downtown Harrisonburg may soon need to find creative places to park or might need to buy a permit because most of the city’s 10-hour parking spots are slated to disappear by mid-August. 

Tom Hartman, director of public works, announced at Tuesday’s Harrisonburg City Council meeting that city staff would begin implementing recommendations from the Downtown Parking Study next month, which includes jettisoning 354 10-hour spots and 115 unrestricted spots. Some will be converted into 239 permit parking spaces, while others will become short-term parking. They’ll also be bumping almost all 30-minute and 1-3 hour parking spaces up to four-hour limits.

Hartman said removing 10-hour spaces from “core, commercial areas downtown,” such as the Elizabeth Street and Water Street parking decks, will promote higher turnover in parking spots for customers of restaurants and other businesses.

Council member George Hirschmann said he was concerned for “people who are trying to hold on to jobs, and times are tight, and now we want to charge them for parking?”

Hartman said when city staff conducted the study with the consulting firm Desman Design Management in 2019, they “had good input in the development of our plan,” including multiple meetings with business and property owners and an online survey that garnered approximately 1,100 responses.

Mayor Deanna Reed said with Harrisonburg’s growing population, “there’s going to be some changes that need to be made.”

“I think this is overall great for the customers,” Reed said. “We need the customers, right, so we can have the revenue and the economy that we want to have downtown.”

Council member Laura Dent said the increase in permit parking is “yet another indication that Harrisonburg is becoming a city, when parking all day isn’t free anymore.” 

“That’s a sticker shock for a lot of the employees and residents,” she said. 

City staff will permanently add 10 parking spots with a 10-minute limit for quick pick ups, which have been temporarily sprinkled near downtown restaurants during the pandemic. 

Michael Parks, director of communications, told The Citizen in an email that the changes would be phased in “after and during a dedicated public education campaign to make sure everyone is aware of the changes.”

Council gets budget feedback 

Throughout the meeting, council members mentioned feedback they’d been getting from community members about the proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget that was presented at the last meeting and pressure to restart construction on the second high school, which has been on hold for a year because of pandemic-related tax revenue losses. 

Only two residents actually called in during a public hearing on the budget: one questioning how the high school construction could be restarted without raising taxes this fiscal year, and another advocating for the construction of a low-barrier homeless shelter.

“We’ve been getting plenty of emails, which we review and appreciate,” Dent said. “I just thought that this one public hearing would have been much more engaging than it seems to be.”

Vice-mayor Sal Romero said he’s heard from multiple residents that “the perception is that council is not open to the feedback.”

The council’s next meeting will be a budget work session at 5 p.m. May 6. The city’s charter requires the council to have an approved budget by the end of May.

Also in the meeting: 

  • The council unanimously reappointed Kira Newman and appointed Jessica Conway to the Community Policy and Management Team, and appointed Robert Graves to the Building Code Board of Appeals.
  • The council unanimously approved closing one block of Heatwole Road, between Sharon and Perry streets, to vehicle traffic. Residents of the neighborhood, which sits behind Harrisonburg Mennonite Church, had reported concerns about speeding and excessive traffic on the narrow two-way street that were corroborated by a traffic study conducted by the Transportation Safety and Advisory Commission.

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