Scarcity of public parking is good problem to have


By Peter Thomson

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Here in eastern North Carolina we’re surely used to the lack of economic progress and the issues it represents: underfunded schools, declining population, a stagnant economy and downtown vacancies. While Elizabeth City has done better than many rural communities, it’s still struggling. Now we’re beginning to have a different kind of challenge that we need to address before it becomes a major problem.

The entrance to our town from the Camden Causeway Bridge is undergoing an astonishing resurrection. Down on Water Street, Weatherby Lofts has been conditionally approved by the city, the Hurdle Building is morphing into The Elizabeth City Brewing Company, the new Fowler Building’s owners are talking to potential tenants and Towne Wealth Management and Towne Bank Mortgage are getting their new home ready at 200 Water Street North. Half a block over, Palin’s Alley is becoming an indoor/outdoor meeting place for many. From the bridge to Main Street, things are happening, and that’s good for downtown. As City Council has recognized, new downtown denizens make cool customers for all kinds of businesses. So maybe we should start thinking again about parking.

With 34 parking spaces for 43 or so apartments, Weatherly Lofts will need public parking space. While these overflow needs were recognized by our city planners, the value to our downtown of a revitalized complex with almost a 100 new consumers overcame any objections. And that’s good. But some of those folks are going to have two cars per unit and one can count on visitors needing a space or two. Additionally, the new Water Street office units will attract customers, and surely a Coastie or two will stop by the pub for a barley sandwich. It’s the kind of problem that’s good to have: enough activity that parking becomes a problem. It’s the mark of a town that is turning things around downtown.

In other places it’s been handled in a variety of ways. Planners will tell you that Elizabeth City’s downtown, with stores stretching from Ehringhaus Street to Elizabeth Street and from Water Street to Road Street. is too big for the population. In some towns they checkerboard parking, buying buildings to knock ‘em down and make mini lots, as we did on Poindexter Street. Another way is to move toward a one-way system on key streets.

One plan would give us 45 more spaces by making Water Street a one-way street and introducing angled parking. This sounds good to merchants and owners but traffic experts will tell you there also has to be a plan for the flow of traffic going the other way, which means increasing traffic on either Poindexter Street or Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, or discomfiting many by establishing a complete new one-way grid system downtown.

Is it worth the trouble? Y’er darn tootin’. New residential customers with disposable incomes are what every downtown needs. This project is part of a national trend: people moving from the suburbs and exurbs into town to take advantage of downtown arts and amenities. As we work our way toward prosperity, Elizabeth City needs more projects like Weatherby Lofts. But we need to plan for increased public parking now.

Peter Thomson is a resident of Elizabeth City.