Business owners and residents in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood in downtown Princeton attended the public meeting of the local governing body Monday night to voice their opposition to plans to turn the parking meters along Witherspoon Street north of Paul Robeson Place into all-day meters. The meters are currently three-hour meters.
Jacqueline Fay, the owner of the nail and skin care salon Grit + Polish at 160 Witherspoon Street, said her business would have to shut down if short-term parking is removed from the neighborhood. Cheap, all-day parking would be scooped up by employees downtown, leaving no spots for the customers who patronize the businesses in the neighborhood.
“I understand the big parking problems in the uptown section of town, but your ordinance will barely make a dent in things, affecting 30 spaces while forcing me and others out of business,” Fay said, adding that the local merchants’ association does not support the plan.
“All-day meters would allow uptown employees to park all day in front of my salon for $6 a day. Those spaces would be gone by 9 a.m. My customers will have no place to park,” Fay said. “There is a perception that the parking spaces are underutilized. My peak hours are noon to 5 p.m. As of now, my business requires five to seven parking spaces in the afternoon Wednesday through Saturday to meet my customers’ needs. It’s not reasonable to expect people in pedi slippers to walk long distances to their cars.”
Fay said she opened her business where she did because she wanted to make a contribution to the historically significant neighborhood. “Your proposal turns the Witherspoon neighborhood into a long-term parking lot, and it sends a terrible message to Witherspoon businesses and residents.”
The town should use the large lot on Franklin Avenue as a temporary solution until affordable housing is build on the lot in two years, Fay said.
Resident Leighton Newlin said he objects to the Franklin Avenue lot being used for employee parking. “Why the municipality feels the need to help provide employee parking for businesses — I’m not really sure why,” Newlin said. “If the municipality made the decision to do so, it should not be at a cost that negatively impacts another district, especially the Witherspoon-Jackson historic district, which has retail traffic and parking needs of its own.”
Newlin suggested that the town look at off-site locations for employee parking. A shuttle that drops employees off downtown could run on a regular basis, he said.
“The Witherspoon area should be given every opportunity to participate in the dynamic growth of the neighborhood and town,” Newlin said. “The neighborhood should not be a parking lot or dump-off point for Nassau Street businesses.”
Former Princeton Borough Mayor Yina Moore said the neighborhood should have been included in the discussions about the parking meter time changes. An official could have attended one of the monthly neighborhood meetings, she said.
Resident John Heilner said five of the six business that would primarily be affected are owned by non-whites.
Mayor Liz Lempert said officials met with business owners over the weekend, and the governing body has decided to pull the ordinance that would create the long-term parking.
“We did get quite a few emails over the weekend about this. In terms of the changes to the parking, the reason why we are doing it is to help our businesses,” Lempert said. “It helps to hear from you all when we aren’t helping. It helps to hear there has to be turnover in that section. We issued a public notice for the ordinance hearing next month, so we will still hold the public hearing, but won’t act on the ordinance when it comes up.”
Lempert said when it comes to parking, there are multiple needs on every single block, and officials are trying to prioritize needs.
Councilman David Cohen said the issue has nothing to do with officials viewing Witherspoon-Jackson businesses and residents as less important than other neighborhoods.
“It really is a function of the fact that there are so many unused parking spaces on Witherspoon Street. They are sometimes only half full,” Cohen said. “We need to search for a solution where we do not cause suffering for businesses there, but if we can provide some employee parking, it will benefit businesses on Witherspoon, as well as other businesses. In my mind we are trying to solve a technical problem and not playing favorites.”
Resident Renee Ekstedt said officials shouldn’t just try to fill empty parking spaces with employees. “I find it absolutely appalling,” she said.
Jack Morrison, president of the Princeton Merchants Association, said he was glad officials are tabling the ordinance. He said more than 130 businesses in the association employ several thousand employees. Many of those employees live in town and in the Witherspoon-Jackson neighborhood, he said. He called on officials to not be dismissive of business owners, their customers, and the community, and to work together with various stakeholders to come up with solutions. “Let’s not overly rely on theory and consultants,” Morrison said.