Ranging from higher parking fines to fewer loading zones, proponents say the recommendations provide affordable solutions to an unyielding problem and advance the ultimate goal of boosting downtown's economy.
"Parking has been an issue since the car was invented," said Lara Thornbury, director of Winchester First.
Convenient parking is one reason shopping centers have eclipsed downtown as the hubs for retail and restaurants, Thornbury said.
"We don't have that luxury downtown because downtowns weren't built for the car."
Today, downtown Winchester boasts about 400 parking spaces, not including two public lots on North Main Street and East Broadway.
Thornbury said many of the spaces are occupied by drivers who work downtown and either park in one spot all day, or move their vehicle from space to space to avoid tickets. The trend depletes parking that would otherwise be available for customers, she said.
"If they would just park a little bit further away and walk to their office, then that would open up parking for more people," she said.
Overall, Winchester First is asking the Winchester Board of Commissioners to:
- increase parking tickets from $5 to $20.
- request that area churches allow downtown employees to park in their unused spaces and encourage businesses to utilize the lots.
- Reduce loading zones in the district.
- Install diagonal parking on the south side of East Broadway between Main Street and Highland Street.
- Construct a crosswalk at the intersection of North Maple Street and Gay Street so drivers can park outside the district and walk into downtown.
The Winchester First's design committee developed the recommendations over about five months.
Committee Chairman Chuck Witt said the issue emerged when downtown businesses owners complained that customers were having trouble parking.
"The design committee decided that we would look at some of the issues and see if come up with some recommendations to help," he said. "We wanted to try to do some things that would resolve some of the problems but would not cost the city enormous amounts of money."
Thornbury said passing the recommendations will improve the downtown economy, but she also believes officials should also focus on changing public perception.
She stressed that parking lots are strategically located to minimize walking distances from stores and drivers often walk more in shopping centers than in downtown.
"We don't have a parking problem, we have a walking problem," Thornbury said.
The recommendations were presented to the city commission last week.
Mayor Ed Burtner said officials plan to consider the proposals and place them on the agenda of a future meeting.
"I don't have a fixed time line on when it will come back before the commission," he said. But he added: "I think it's an important issue."
Contact Mike Wynn at email@example.com.