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New meters irk some shopowners

The current parking battle in Chevy Chase isn't about parking spaces; it's about footsteps.

How many steps is too many when you pay for parking?

For former Urban County Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. and many other merchants in Chevy Chase, even one extra step is too many.

The merchants oppose a plan by the Lexington & Fayette County Parking Authority to replace the individual parking meters along the 800 block of Euclid Avenue and along a nearby stretch of High Street with computerized pay stations. Each pay station is expected to take the place of about 10 individual meters.

With the computerized stations, which are called Pay & Display meters, drivers would no longer be able to pay for parking right next to their cars. Instead, they would have to walk to the computerized station, pay and then return to their cars to put a ticket on their dashboards before heading to their destination.

In Chevy Chase, four pay stations have been installed, but not activated.

Gary Means, the executive director of the parking authority, said the new meters won't be activated until after he has had an opportunity to meet with the Chevy Chase merchants.

"We are really open to listening to their concerns and trying to work with them on this issue," he said.

Means plans to make a presentation to the Urban County Council on Tuesday about the parking authority's efforts, which include increased enforcement, a meter rate hike from 25 cents an hour to $1, and the pay stations.

The Pay & Display meters in Chevy Chase are part of the parking authority's plan to replace 450 individual parking meters throughout downtown and the University of Kentucky area with 50 pay stations.

With the exception of the four meters in Chevy Chase, all of the pay stations should be activated by the end of the month, Means said.

The pay stations are more convenient than the old meters because drivers can pay with cash or a credit, debit or smart card, which is a pre-paid parking card, Means said. "I truly feel that when it's all said and done they will be happy with the multi-unit station."

The Pay & Display meters might work well in some parts of the city where people expect to walk to their destination, but not in Chevy Chase, which has an emphasis on convenience, said Farmer, a partner in Farmer's Jewelry on Euclid.

People shop in Chevy Chase for the convenience of not having a long walk from their parking space to the store, he said. "People enjoy parking, stepping into a store, doing their business and then stepping out."

Based on where the pay station is located, customers could potentially have to walk half a block to and from the pay station, said Frankie York, owner of New Editions Gallery. "If you have perfect weather, no problem. If it's cold, if it's raining, if it's hot, any of those times and they have to walk an extra half a block to do it're going to deter people from coming in."

Although customers will need to walk a bit farther to pay for their parking spot, "those extra few steps, I don't think, are going to be a deal-breaker for somebody going there," Means said.

Customers were probably more inconvenienced before the parking authority began its enforcement efforts because they often would have to circle the block to find a parking spot, Means said. "Now they can find a parking space right on that block."

Other than opposition from the Chevy Chase merchants, the only other negative comments Means has received about the pay stations is a request to add additional signs so that drivers know exactly where to pay for their parking space, he said.

The parking authority has also implemented a 30-day warning period for the spaces being served by a Pay & Display meter so that drivers can get used to them, Means said.

One of the very first Pay & Display meters to be installed was on Esplanade in front of Natasha's Bistro and Bar.

When it first went in, customers were a bit irritated at having to learn a different way to park, but they got used to it, said Gene Williams, co-owner of Natasha's Bistro and Bar.

The pay stations are modern and user-friendly and they have been used in other cities with thriving shopping districts, Williams said.

"I would encourage my fellow merchants to just be patient, because from the big picture this move will generally increase our sales and make parking easier for customers," Williams said. "If you look at it right at the cusp of the change, it's a little aggravating for everybody."