Mt. Airy BID addresses growing concerns over parking with residents, business owners

Parking congestion was the subject of a special forum hosted by the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District (BID) Tuesday evening. Talk centered around parking conditions along the 6700 and 6800 blocks of Germantown Avenue and the challenges facing a growing commercial corridor.

With the hopes of attracting more business to that section of Mt. Airy, “we should be talking about this now, rather than later,” said BID President, Ken Weinstein.

The filling of current vacancies on the avenue could add to existing parking woes.

Needs and concerns

An 2009 agreement between BID and NewCourtland allows for use of 50 parking spaces on the Germantown Home campus. The Carpenter Lane lot offers free parking to the public from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. during the week, and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.

However, the “crunch time” for parking on the blocks is between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., noted Weinstein, who owns three commercial properties there.

At night, some of the congestion is alleviated both by NewCourtland’s lot and by businesses that close by 6 p.m.

Those in attendance said one of the problems affecting parking availability on the blocks today stems from business owners and employees taking up to 50 percent of the spaces by parking all day on Germantown Avenue.

Damien Ciasullo, of Rhino Chiropractic Center, says it has an immediate impact on his business. Many of his clients have mobility issues which leave them physically challenged or unable to walk further distances to his office. Lack of nearby parking is also driving potential customers away, he said.

Few businesses have lots for their parking needs. Mt. Airy USA (MAUSA) has a 15 space lot behind its building at the corner of Germantown Avenue and E. Phil Ellena Street, but the limited availability is not enough to serve all of its tenants’ customers.

BID’s Executive Director, Hollie Malamud-Price, said the association received a letter from Jessica Kim, of Kim’s Trio Delight about the cafe’s parking concerns. Kim’s letter told of customers who came in for a $10 breakfast and wound up with a $50 parking fine.

Worries about Wingstop

Many were stunned to learn of the significant parking needs for a new business that will soon be on the avenue.

Franchise owner Richard Johnson plans to open Wingstop Restaurant at 6700 Germantown Avenue by September. The 52-seat restaurant will be open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to midnight.

The property has no off-street parking. In addition to available space for his sit-down customers, Johnson says he will also need allotted 20 minute loading zones for take-out orders.

Elise Rivers, owner of Community Acupuncture of Mt. Airy and BID board member, expressed unease about the restaurant’s lack of designated parking. “We don’t really know and understand what the impact is of Wingstop on this area.”

Rivers questioned how the restaurant’s parking needs will be absorbed by the surrounding streets. Unless parking for Wingstop is taken into account, it could prove detrimental to other businesses, she said.

Malamud-Price agreed saying while she welcomes the new eatery to the corridor, it is necessary to be aware of the stress it will put on an already tenuous parking situation.

MAUSA’s renovated building will likely see more tenants occupy the premises in the near future, adding to the strain.

MAUSA Executive Director, Anuj Gupta told the forum that he has initiated a conversation with SEPTA in hopes that the transit organization will consider public parking use on its expansive property at 6721-39 Germantown Avenue, but an agreement has not been reached.

The SEPTA lot sits across the street from the the future Wingstop and could be a solution to its parking needs and those of others’ on the avenue.

Finding common ground

The two blocks in question consist of a mix of residential properties as well as retail and service businesses. “We need to accommodate all three,” Weinstein said.

Most of the west side of the 6700 block, from 6742 to 6776, is residential and has parking space available in the rear, accessible by a small alley. Resident Winifred Davis says she doesn’t want to see time restrictions on parking put in place. Even with an annual residential parking permit from the city, such restrictions would still effect friends and family who come to visit, she said. 

Davis said she would like to see business owners do their part in encouraging clients to use public transportation.

Business owners voiced support for a two-hour restriction on all but the residential strip of the 6700 block. Jerome Mitchell, proprietor of the Gathering Place, said the concern then becomes whether those restrictions will drive parking to the side streets and the unrestricted sections of the avenue.

In the end, a two-hour limit on parking on weekdays only from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. was agreed to be the most beneficial.

The possibilities for sharing lots after hours were also explored by the group. MAUSA once leased the small parking lot at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, but funding cuts put an end to that, Gupta explained.

Next Steps

BID board members said they will continue to look at all options available to remedy the parking concerns.

They plan to contact the Parking Authority to learn more about needs to be done in order to secure parking restriction signs for the blocks and reach out to Councilwoman Cindy Bass’ office for her input.

Gupta said he will follow-up with SEPTA to arrange a second meeting to discuss a possible parking arrangement for the neighborhood.

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