Columbia City Council proposes changes to parking meters

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COLUMBIA - Columbia City Council will vote on changing some downtown parking meter zones at their meeting Monday night.

The Downtown Employee Permit Pilot program would give people the opportunity to purchase parking permits for $35 per month. People with the permits would be able to park in designated areas for 10 hours. The zones would be primarily on Ash, Walnut and Fourth Streets, and Columbia Public Works would sell about 200 permits.

Third Ward City Councilman Karl Skala said if approved, the permits would be marketed toward downtown employees.

"The idea behind this to allow employees of some of the stores in the downtown area to get a discount to park downtown so they can afford it and be closer to their businesses," Skala said. "Rather than take up spaces in front of some of these commercial establishments that they frankly want their customers to be able to park there."

Jonathan Steffens, the owner of Craft Beer Cellar, said he thinks the proposal could help improve business downtown, and would also mean less fines for his employees.

"It's a constant struggle for both employees and customers finding adequate parking," Steffens said.

In addition to the permits, the proposal would also add 33 new 10-hour meters to downtown locations Columbia Public Works found to be underused.

Skala said that while the goal would be to accommodate downtown employees, "we also don't want to displace people who have a right to park in front of their own property."

He said the pilot program could help the city in planning future parking developments. ""We're looking to use this as a model that we may be able to improve parking situations, not just in this area, but also for the overflow that is a result of downtown student housing development," Skala said.

"In general, the parking situation in Columbia is always contentious, you know, parking is, you know, hard to find, and with the addition of student housing its going to be a lot worse going forward," Steffens said.

Columbia Public Works said the project would cost $20,000.

"That's great, pricing wise," Steffens said. "On average, we'll spend, just feeding a 10 hour meter, at least six to seven bucks a day, for some of our staff."

Skala said he expects the proposal to be approved at Monday's meeting. "I can't imagine there will be too much opposition to it," he said.