Delray’s Atlantic Ave., garage parking about to change

The days of nabbing a free parking spot in front of the restaurants and shops along Atlantic Avenue or in the parking garage during the week are coming to an end.

Delray Beach will soon charge for parking in prime spots throughout downtown. The city commission set the stage for a parking renaissance at a meeting Tuesday evening, when it instructed staff to move forward with a plan to charge for parking along Atlantic Avenue and other areas.

Some details haven’t been finalized — including potential resident parking passes or downtown employee parking.

But charging for parking along Delray’s popular downtown strip — a plan more than 10 years in the making — could come as early as June.

The city estimates parking revenue will jump to $1.36 million in 2019 once paid parking begins.

» READ: Shhhh! Five secret (and free) places to park in downtown Delray Beach

Delray will place 32 smart meters along Atlantic Avenue from Swinton Avenue east to Fifth Avenue, as well as side streets one block north and south of Atlantic. The plan is to charge $2 an hour, but the city manager has the authority to adjust that price.

The city is debating a time cap on how long patrons can park along Atlantic Avenue. The initial pitch was two hours, but Vice Mayor Adam Frankel said dinner at downtown restaurants can last much longer.

The commissioners will sort out those details and others when the parking plan is up for official approval at a commission meeting June 5.

The garages currently charge a $5 flat fee Thursday-Saturday between 4 p.m. and midnight.

They’ll now expand the it to $5 Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight, leaving only Sundays free in the evening. The city will also ban overnight parking in the garages, which raised concerns from some.

Downtown patrons occasionally park in the garage, then opt to take a cab or ride-sharing service home after a night of drinking at Atlantic Avenue’s many bars. They’ll no longer be able to leave their cars overnight without risk of penalty.

The idea behind the overnight ban is to discourage neighbors of the downtown from using the garage as residential parking. But Commissioner Bill Bathurst suggested easing up on the rule for occasional offenders.

“Do it once, OK we let you go. Do it twice, you get a ticket,” Bathurst said.

Meanwhile, the surface lots scattered throughout the downtown will likely stay free.

While the parking plan takes shape, Delray Beach has amped up its enforcement. Last year, the city only collected 30 percent of the fines for parking offenders. That’s now increased to 71 percent, “which is more than the industry standard,” City Manager Mark Lauzier said.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia criticized the paid parking plan, saying it would cause issues like parking spilling into the neighborhoods north and south of Atlantic Avenue.

“I’m not a huge fan of the parking meters,” Petrolia said. “What I think it’s going to do is raise more problems.”

But groups like the city’s Downtown Development Authority and the parking advisory board have long pushed for paid parking to encourage turnover in prime spots and generate revenue.

“I’m excited,” said Commissioner Ryan Boylston, who served on the Downtown Development Authority board. “It’s been a broken system for a while.”

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