Council approves lease, fee for parking on Ninth Street

Feb. 17, 2014 @ 09:17 PM

A 6-0 City Council vote on Monday cleared the way for officials to sign a new lease for a 42-space parking lot on the west side on Ninth Street, and to begin charging motorists $1 an hour for weekday use of it beginning this summer.

The deal with the lot’s owner, the Chartwell Property Group, takes effect March 1, but officials won’t charge people or pay Chartwell any rent until June 1, city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen said.

That squared with a request from Mayor Bill Bell that the city hold off on the $1-an-hour fee for three months until a planned repaving of the lot is complete. Administrators also need time to install the pay station they’ll use to collect the fee.

Councilman Steve Schewel thanked Chartwell representatives for agreeing to the delay in the start of the city’s rental payments.

“It’s a goodwill gesture,” Schewel said. “I don’t think it will go every way to assuage the fears of Ninth Street merchants, but it’s very much appreciated.”

The fee will be in effect Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Parking in the lot nights and on weekends will be free. So too will curbside parking, at all times, though officials say they’re going to more rigorously enforce time limits on the use of curbside spaces.

Merchants based on the east side of Ninth Street supported the lease, which preserves the site as a public parking lot. But they’ve questioned charging for use of traditionally free off-street parking, for fear it could hurt business.

But Bell and the council signaled earlier this month that they’re unwilling to have taxpayers eat the full, $429,055 five-year cost of the lease.

They believe the fee will lower the required tax subsidy to $120,433.

To soften the blow to merchants like Regulator Bookshop owner Tom Campbell, officials have pledged to work with them over the coming three months to address complaints about the lack of parking for people who work in the business district.

That means counting how many spaces employees of the district’s businesses may need, and figuring out a strategy for addressing any shortage.

Ahrendsen said the city also will continue working with Duke University on plans to upgrade Alley 8, an east-west connector between Ninth and Broad Streets midway between West Main Street and West Markham Avenue.

Merchants see Alley 8 and a similar north-south link from Markham called Alley 9 as pedestrian and service corridors for the west side of Ninth Street, particularly given the availability of parking on nearby Iredell Street.

Acceding to another merchant request, officials said the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development in April will ask the council to add Ninth Street to the list of business districts that qualify for small-scale “retail and professional services” grants.

The grants are more commonly known as façade grants and are used for sprucing up the exterior of existing buildings.

At the moment, they’re only available to businesses downtown and places like the Angier Street/Driver Street district in east Durham where officials are explicitly trying to attract new enterprises.

The city will put $100,000 into the Ninth Street effort, drawing it from the expected gains in property tax revenue attributable to Chartwell’s efforts on the east side of the street. The company is behind the development of the new Harris Teeter complex.

Monday’s vote occurred in the absence of Councilman Eugene Brown, who had signaled support for the lease and the new fee.