ASHEVILLE — Outside the Buncombe County Courthouse, more than 50 people rallied Sept. 6 demanding free or discounted parking for downtown workers. Parking is a daily struggle that, according to lead organizer Jen Hampton, costs many Asheville restaurant workers between $100 and $400 a month.
Hampton, an organizer for Asheville Food and Beverage United, a labor-led coalition that organizes food service workers in Asheville, said the struggle to find parking in Asheville’s often congested downtown is still complicated. by high costs, the influx of tourists, predatory tours and frequent tickets.
“We lost a lot of workers downtown because of this,” she said. While other employees get parking offered by downtown employers, she said few workers in the service industry get the same treatment.
“Those of us downstairs, we don’t have free parking.”
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The rally was aimed at pressuring Buncombe County commissioners to come up with solutions, and Hampton said while the conversation would start with the county, she intended to take it into the city afterwards.
As the rally prepared a block away, commissioners received a staff briefing on parking conditions in downtown Asheville and began evaluating affordable parking options to help keep costs down.
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Karli Schwartz said she worked in the service industry during her six years in Asheville, and the pressure of downtown parking was an almost constant stressor.
“I was hit very hard and had to make huge changes in my life in order to pay for parking to get to my job,” she said.
Faced with around $120 in parking fees a month, she said the cost was one-eighth of her income.
As Asheville becomes “more and more unaffordable every day,” Schwartz said the out-of-pocket parking fee impacted her ability to save for the future, forced her to change jobs from serviced accommodation and moving in with a roommate to cut costs.
For those trying to escape high downtown parking costs — which top out at $20 per day for parking garages and $1.50 per hour at meters — she said workers park on Cherry Street or Montford, which has free street parking but can result in long, dangerous walks for many late-night workers.
Mark Colgan, another Asheville utility worker, said when he worked downtown, he paid more than $100 every one to two weeks and took chunks out of his paycheck in anticipation of the cost.
“I have to think every day I come to work, how much money am I going to spend?” Colgan asked. “How am I going to find a parking spot, and if I find a parking spot, how’s it going to eat into my paycheck at the end of the month?”
Of all the issues plaguing downtown workers, from living wages to paid time off and schedule transparency, Hampton said she discovered while prospecting that parking was the top concern for most workers. of food and drink.
Schwartz said the same thing – that if you roll down a list of food industry concerns, workers will respond, “Cool, cool, cool, but what about parking?”
Asheville Food and Beverage United is circulating a petition calling for low-cost or free parking, as well as expanded access to public transportation for downtown service workers. It has 2,127 signatures.
Buncombe County offers potential solutions
The county has acknowledged the problem, and at a September 6 briefing, Economic Development Director Tim Love presented a series of solutions to county commissioners, ranging from programs for all to those that would be available for people. low and middle income.
While county commissioners did not vote on the proposals on September 6, Speaker Brownie Newman said while it was not free parking it was a “big step” and encouraged commissioners to hear feedback from the community in the coming weeks.
“I encourage us to take the time to hear from the community about this,” Newman said. “I think this will generate a lot of interest. I’d love to hear community feedback on this.”
Average daily costs are around $15 a day, and parking garage leases start at $85 a month, but can be much higher, Love said.
“Parking fees impact employees,” he said.
Extrapolated over a month, Love said parking fees can be as high as $500, which works out to $6,000 a year for downtown workers, though prices vary by location and frequency. where people park.
In his presentation, Love presented two potential solutions, both with two alternative scenarios, which would launch an affordable parking program in the county-owned garage near Coxe Avenue, called Sears Alley Public Parking Deck, with additional decks to take into account. account in the future.
The Sears Alley Bridge is one of two county-owned parking garages in Asheville.
The current rate to purchase a monthly garage parking pass is $85.
The first proposed program would create a reduced monthly rate of $40 per month for all employees of downtown businesses within approximately 1 mile of Pack Square on a first-come, first-served basis.
There are 664 spaces on the Sears Alley Bridge, of which 464 are available for daily parking and 200 spaces for rent. All are currently leased at market value, with no reduced options.
Option 1 would make 285 places available for monthly rental at the reduced rate. This would result in a loss of revenue of $51,900.
The garage’s current annual rental income is $188,700.
Option 2 would make 335 spaces available for monthly rental at the reduced rate and result in a loss of revenue of $27,900.
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The second proposed program would make employees of downtown businesses with low or moderate incomes — 80% of the region’s median income or lower, or about $43,000 a year or less — eligible to purchase a monthly parking pass at a reduced rate.
The second option, and staff recommendation, is to make 150 spaces available at the reduced rate, leaving 329 available for daily use – which would increase revenue by $72,000.
In all proposals, the proposed process was the same:
- Parking passes can be purchased by employees or employers.
- The program is subject to availability and may be reduced/cancelled in the future.
- Applicants apply online using the Preferred Parking website.
- Applicants must provide proof of employment and income to Downtown.
- Employees must recertify their employment every 12 months.
- Staff will analyze the data over time and recommend options for the commissioner to expand or reduce the program.
Next steps include commissioners providing additional information, staff finalizing the program with Preferred Parking, the company that manages its parking lots and terraces, and speaking with other partners.
If the commission were to proceed with a proposal, Love said a program could launch in the fall of 2022.
Commissioners are due to vote on the matter at their next meeting on September 20.
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Current advice? Email [email protected] or message on Twitter @slhonosky.