Hike in Parking Fees Spark Belmont Business Owners Ire

Photo:¬†Bells & Whistles’ Meghan Aufiero at the community parking lot behind Belmont Center, Tuesday, Feb. 3.¬†

There was a surprise waiting for Meghan Aufiero as she arrived for work at Bells & Whistles, the home furnishings, gifts and accessories store on Leonard Street on a frigid Tuesday morning, Feb. 3.

As she was putting dollar bills into the parking machine, she discovered the daily rate to park in the Belmont Center commuter lot would cost her an extra $2 a day to $5.

“This is a bummer,” the Winchester resident said when she discovered the 75 percent increase in the price of parking in Belmont’s commercial hub.

Aufiero is just one of dozens of employees of small businesses and franchises feeling the impact of the near doubling of the daily parking charge, approved late last year by the Belmont Board of Selectmen at the recommendation of a citizens/town group that spent more than a year determining the parking operation was not paying its way.

The new parking scheme, which went into effect Sunday, Feb. 1, includes the new fee structure and an attempt to monetize the vast number of commuters who have parked on Belmont streets for nothing, or close to it, for decades.

In addition to the hourly and daily fees jumps, the town has created 10 new weekday parking spots along Royal Road adjacent to the MBTA’s commuter rail station at Belmont Center and spaces in the Belmont Center commuter parking lot reserved for commuter pass holders. Those monthly passes are going for $90 a pop, an increase of $30.
The jump in fees, delayed a month at the request of local businesses, has been as welcome as the two snow storms that have hampered businesses in the town’s main commercial area.

“I can’t, and won’t, tell you how angry I am about this,” said a Leonard Street business proprietor.

Owners say the result of the new commuter parking plan is their staffs are left holding the bag, which needs to be filled with quarters to feed the parking machine.

For Belmont Toys owner Deran Muckjian, the increase will be an additional burden on his employees.

“The are now being asked to pay $1,200 or more this year just to come to work,” he said.

For Shelley MacDonald, who travels from Clarendon Road to Belmont Center, the additional cost of parking is making it harder for her to justify coming to work at the town’s only toy store.

“These little businesses don’t make enough to offset the new price for their employees. How can they retain good workers?” MacDonald asked.

Muckjian is not just upset by the added costs to his employees, but whether the increases are justified. Muckjian said his parking costs in towns where he has other stores are considerably less; in Lexington, he pays $250 a year each for two employee passes while Winchester does not charge a nickel for employee parking permits.

“What are the costs to park here? Keep the blacktop repaired? Making sure the parking machine is working?” Muckjian said.

At the very least, said Muckjian, a discount should be provided to the employees with the subsequent decrease in revenue be made up by increasing the fees on commuters.

A monthly pass at the nearby Alewife Station in Cambridge is $7 a day while the parking lot at the Fitchburg/Acton commuter line stop at the Brandeis stop in Waltham is $4 daily.

So far, there has been little communications between owners and the town on resolving the matter.

Champions Sports Goods owner Gerry Dickhaut said he has yet to receive a reply to a Belmont Center Business Association letter on business owners’ concerns. The single-page note, dated Dec. 8, suggests cutting the increase in the daily rate in half, up a $1 to $4 a day, retain the $60 a month pass for employees while jacking up the cost to commuters to $15 a day, which would still be half the cost of parking in downtown Boston.

But the town official who presented the case for the fee hike at a pair of public meetings last month said the increases in daily and monthly rates are past due.

Belmont Town Treasurer Floyd Carman, said rates have been kept steady since January 2009 while the demand for parking spots is outstripping supply.

“Belmont parking is at a premium. We are not like other towns that either has the space for big lots or a lot of industry that can subsidize parking,” said Carman. “Belmont does not have that luxury; We have a limited number of parking spaces. That’s the facts.”

He said the town’s parking advisory group, made up of residents and town officials, made an extensive analysis of the parking rates in many communities, not just neighboring municipalities. The new price structure “is a function of what it takes to run the program and what’s fair.”

Carman said the need for the town to employ three parking enforcement personnel and keeping all the equipment running requires the town to raise about $35,000 a year on fees to make the program pay for itself.

“Believe me, the town is not getting rich on this increase,” said Carman.

As for alternatives and price breaks for employees, Carman said he has not seen any proposals “come across my desk.”

“If the business association comes to me with a proposal, I am ready to talk to them and then presented to the Board of Selectmen,” said Carman.

Belmont OKs Commuter Pass Program, Price Hikes for Town Lots

Straphangers using Belmont Center to catch buses or the commuter rail to work will soon lose most of their free parking options as the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved a plan Monday, Sept. 29 requiring commuters to purchase of a monthly pass to park along streets and town lots near the transportation hub.

The recommendations from a committee of the Financial Task Force is predicting the commuter pass along with an increase in the fees at the three municipal parking lots will generate an additional $40,000 a year for the town, according to Floyd Carman, the town’s treasurer who is a member of the Task Force’s Other Revenue Committee.

The selectmen decided to defer from expanding the commuter plan to the “turn around” road across from Cottage Street and the Underwood Pool that is used for parking for residents and visitors attending events or using the school playing fields or the ‘Skip’ Viglirolo Skating Rink.

The new parking regulations will go into effect on Jan. 1.

Residents and out-of-towners who use the three town-owned lots in Belmont Center (on Claflin Street), Cushing Square and Waverley Square will be paying 40 cents more an hour and $2 a day to park, which will cover the costs to maintain the lots and operate the parking program, said Carman.

The parking fees will become $1 per hour and $5 for an all day ticket on Jan. 1. Parking passes will jump from $60 to $90.

The big change will be the new commuter parking plan, an idea proposed in the past but never implemented, said Carman. Currently, about 65 percent of the vehicles parked adjacent the Belmont commuter rail station are from out-of-town, said Carman.

“Sometimes, it’s 100 percent. There are no places for residents to park,” he told selectmen.

Under the recommendations, ten spaces in the three municipal lots as well as 13 spaces along Royal Road in front of the Belmont Lions Club will be reserved for commuters who purchase passes for $90 a month. The pass will allow commuters to use the spaces from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The ten commuter spots in the Belmont Center lot will be located near the former Macy’s location as its unlikely the site will be leased “until next year,” said Carman.

“So for the short term we can develop a revenue stream,” said Carman.

He also said there is some risk to the plan as the Belmont Center lot is used by the town’s Farmers Market five months during the summer and fall while the Lions Club sells Christmas trees in December.

Carman told Selectmen that businesses whose employees have been using lots and the street could begin a shuttle service from other locations.

The approved recommendations come as the November Town Meeting will discuss approving the $2.6 million reconstruction of Belmont Center’s roads that will include the introduction of a parking plan that calls for meters along Leonard Street. Selectman Sami Baghdady said he wanted to promote the commuter lot in a way “to encourage turnover along Leonard Street” to promote shopping and not all-day parking along the town’s “High Street.”

Selectman Mark Paolillo brought up the running concern of workers using on-street parking spaces by suggesting employee designated parking spaces in the three municipal lots with the remaining spaces limited to four hours or less.

“Let’s start thinking about this now before the Macy’s site opens,” said Paolillo.