Chestnut Hill’s parking lots could see $1/per hour fee

The Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation is closing in on a deal that will for the first time ever bring pay-parking machines and Philadelphia Parking Authority enforcement to its eight lots.

The privately-owned lots are currently available to the community free-of-charge with local businesses covering the cost of maintenance and a handful of foundation “ambassadors” serving as the patrol mechanism.

It’s a two-year-old system that foundation board members now say isn’t working. CHPF President John Ingersoll, co-owner of the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, says the problem is two-fold.

Not enough merchants, he said, are complying with the foundation’s assessed fees because they either aren’t willing to or aren’t able given the economic climate. The other problem is trying to monitor. Too many people are taking advantage of the free spaces, including employees and non-shoppers.

“When we got into this voluntary system we we’re hopeful it would work,” said Ingersoll. “The system is a bit flawed.”

The result is that shoppers will soon pre-pay for parking, $1 an hour, and PPA officers will issue tickets to those caught staying past their time. The parking kiosks, similar to those found around the city, will issue time stubs after patrons pay that they will then display in the passenger-side of the dashboard.

The parking fees will go to the parking foundation; the fines go to PPA. The foundation will continue to operate the lots, which they have for more than 50 years, with the PPA patrolling when possible.

The kiosks will be covered by part of a $250,000 federal transportation grant awarded to the parking foundation several years ago to cover capital improvements.

The new system is expected to be in place sometime early next year, said Ingersoll.

An invitation-only meeting for merchants and property owners to meet with PPA officials and learn about the parking kiosks was scheduled for Nov. 10 at 2 p.m. inside the Chestnut Hill Library. The parking foundation cancelled that meeting after it learned that un-invited community members may attend.

“We’re willing to talk to people, but we just didn’t want a circus,” said Ingersoll.

A few residents, unaware of the cancellation, showed up anyway. Long-time Chestnut Hill resident John O’Connell hung around inside the library to break the news. A small sign was also posted to one of the library’s front doors.

O’Connell, a former parking authority board member, said he showed up simply to get some answers. He wants the foundation to explain why the kiosks are the best option.

“We deserve to hear some details as to why there aren’t alternatives,” said O’Connell. “I’m in no way advocating free parking.”

O’Connell thinks there’s a better way. Instead of having pre-paid parking, O’Connell would rather see a system where shoppers pay for the time they stay in a particular lot. He described the current proposal involving the PPA as “predatory.”

“I don’t want the Parking Authority walking around ready to pounce on my car fifteen minutes after my ticket expires,” said O’Connell.

Mt. Airy resident Robert Lambert and his wife Marilyn showed up to voice somewhat stronger opposition to the foundation’s plan. The two are Democratic committeepersons in city’s Ninth Ward, which covers Chestnut Hill and parts of Mt. Airy.

Marilyn Lambert said many in the community are retired and may not have money to pay to park. “A few bucks here and a few bucks there, it all adds up,” she said.

Robert said the kiosks will discourage shoppers from hitting the Hill and in turn hurt neighborhood businesses.

“Many people come here instead of going to Plymouth Meeting mall or thereabouts because they can hop in a store,” he said.

“If I go to Killian [Hardware store] for a washer that’s going to cost me fifty cents and I have to pay a $1 to park my car, I’m not going to Killian’s,” Robert added.

The Parking Foundation’s Ingersoll said a letter detailing announcing the kiosk system was sent out to the Chestnut Hill business community and has yet to hear any complaints about the plan.

Greg Welch, who co-chairs the Chestnut Hill Business Association, said no one was particularly in favor of the measure, but that it was the best alternative to the current system.

“The businesses are currently impacted by the lack of available parking space caused by the inefficient system we currently have,” said Welch, a non-voting member of the CHPF. “Those spots are being taken up by residents who aren’t shopping here and people taking advantage of the lots – people getting on trains and going downtown and employees violating the lots.”

As for involving the PPA, disliked by most Philadelphians, Ingersoll said, “They are our only means of enforcement.”

Said Ingersoll, “No matter where you go in Philadelphia you have to pay to park. The alternative is to close the lots.”

There are eight parking lots:

Lot #2 on East Evergreen Avenue (behind Bank of America)
Lot #3 on East Evergreen Avenue (behind Wachovia)
Lot #4 on East Highland Avenue (behind Hirshorn Co.)
Lot #5 at 8300 Germantown Avenue (next to PNC Bank)
Lot #6 on West Highland Avenue (next to Valley Green Bank)
Lot #9 on 8600 Germantown Avenue (behind Citizens Bank)  entrance on Hilltop Road via Rex Avenue
Lot #10 on Bethlehem Pike (next to C.H. Physical Therapy Center)
Lot #12 on West Evergreen Avenue (at R8 – Chestnut Hill West Station)

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