By Steve Plunkett
Pay attention to the sign when you pull into a free on-street parking space in downtown Boca Raton. The city is enforcing the mostly two-hour time limits for the first time in at least three years.
City staff also are putting up new parking signs where there are none and will report back in June on what else should be done.
“We all know there’s a lot more downtown activity. There’s a lot of development going on in the downtown — construction, other things — and that is causing on-street parking to be at a premium. And the phone calls are coming in,” city Municipal Services Director Dan Grippo said at the April 7 meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency.
Deputy Mayor Constance Scott said even more construction workers will flood downtown as building exteriors are completed and interior work begins.
“That problem is only going to get worse,” Scott said.
In 2011 the CRA suspended enforcement of timed on-street parking while metered parking was expanded downtown.
Boca Raton currently has 242 timed parking spaces on downtown streets and 299 no-limit spaces, Grippo said.
That’s not enough for everyone.
Gerry Whidden, owner of Natures Symphony, an aromatherapy shop, said her building on Northeast First Avenue does not have parking.
“So we have to rely on parking on the street,” she said. “I don’t know what we would do if we had to pay for parking or had to move our car every two hours.”
Philip Scandariato, owner of Phil’s Cycle Ward, a nearby bike shop with a coffee bar, said workers at a restaurant on Palmetto Park Road monopolize parking on Northeast First and even post a guard to alert them to open spots.
“By 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon that entire street is taken up by employees,” he said.
Architect Doug Mummaw said his client, downtown property owner Investments Ltd., “vehemently we’re against any kind of metered parking.”
Businesses that have parking lots tend not to allow other businesses to use them, he said. “You probably have a thousand parking spaces within the downtown that are sitting empty most of the time,” Mummaw contended.
The Downtown Boca Raton Advisory Committee took the opposite stance, recommending that parking meters be installed where parking is most scarce.
Among the trouble spots is the area bounded by Dixie Highway, Mizner Boulevard and Palmetto Park Road, which has 21 half-hour spaces around the post office and 32 two-hour spaces. Boca Raton Road has 29 no-limit spaces and Northwest First Avenue has 23.
The other troublesome area — bounded by Dixie, Mizner, Palmetto Park and Southeast Fifth Street — has 96 timed spaces, mainly on Southeast First Avenue, and 86 no-limit spaces sprinkled throughout.
Pierre Samaha, owner of Salon Pierre & Co. on South Federal Highway, asked that enforcement of the two-hour limit be delayed until a parking solution is found. CRA commissioners termed his hair salon “collateral damage” to Subway sandwich shop’s insistence that the two-hour limit be enforced on that block.
“We have competing interests,” CRA Chairman Scott Singer said. “We’ve got employers who have no space for their employees. We’ve got employees themselves who want to park closer and not walk many blocks. We’ve got stores like Subway that require quick turnover. We’ve got stores like yours that require a longer turnover. So it’s a delicate balance.”
In the end, CRA commissioners agreed to let city staff sign new areas as they see fit, enforce limits that have not been enforced and report back in 90 days on a long-term solution.