NEWBURYPORT — The rollout of the city's controversial downtown paid-parking plan has been delayed until at least the end of next week, as City Hall staff work overtime to process what's been a higher-than-anticipated number of permit applications.
City Clerk Rich Jones said this week that his office has processed a whopping 1,800 applications for resident parking stickers, with another 500 forms still awaiting review. And more permit request applications continue to come in every day, he said.
Jones suspects the city's decision to lower the permit cost to $5 for residents and to eliminate the fee for seniors may be resulting in the onslaught.
"It's more than the consultant anticipated," Jones said. "No one knew for certain."
There's also a concern over the high volume of requests for employee parking permits and whether enough spaces have been earmarked for the business community.
Jones, who has assumed the title of parking clerk under the new plan, said Tuesday that the many moving parts involved in launching paid parking has made it difficult to identify a concrete start date.
Paid parking was originally scheduled to begin May 9, but then the launch was extended to today. Jones said now the city is looking to launch closer to the end of next week or perhaps even the following week.
"It's the mayor's call," Jones said of the start date.
The pay-and-display parking machines, which operate via cellular technology, have been installed in the six downtown lots and are fully wired and ready to be put into use. But they are covered with bags until all the other pieces of the plan fall into place.
Jones said the rain has complicated efforts to install concrete stoppers in the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority east and west lots on the waterfront. And the wet conditions have made the delineation of spaces on the dirt lots near impossible.
"They really need dry weather to line those lots. And as we all know, it hasn't been dry," he said.
At a Newburyport Rotary Club luncheon on Tuesday, Mayor Donna Holaday said she's concerned about the number of employee parking stickers being sought and whether the city can accommodate all the requests.
"The worst thing we could do is issue all these employee permits and not have places for them to park," she said. "If it turns out there's a much greater demand for employee stickers, we have to think about other alternatives."
Jones said 178 spaces have been identified for employee parking — 130 between the NRA west and east lots and another 48 in the Tracey Place lot adjacent to the Newburyport Library.
"We don't know how many are going to come in ultimately," he said of employee parking requests. "If more come in than we have spaces for, we will have a waiting list."
City leaders believed by setting aside a place for employees to park, the pressure on the central Green Street parking lot, which is needed to accommodate people coming downtown to shop and dine, would be alleviated. Employee parking permits cost $100 and, like resident stickers, will be issued annually.
Jones said some residents who were told to give the city 21 days to process their applications are growing concerned they won't have their sticker when paid parking begins. But Jones said they need not worry.
"People are getting nervous that if we went live and they don't have a permit, they will get a ticket," Jones said. "We're going to do everything in our power to get it to them, and if we don't get it to them, we're going to take that into consideration."
Applicants can help speed up the process by making sure they have complied with the five requirements laid out in the application materials before sending in their requests, Jones said. For example, many applications have been submitted without the required self-addressed, stamped envelope, he said. Applications must also include copies of one's license and vehicle registration as well as payment.
Jones said the decision, at the advice of officials in the town of Winthrop, to make parking stickers available only by mail has proven effective and made the process more efficient than it might have been.
"If we hadn't done the mail-only approach, we would have had lines for months. I'm sure," Jones said.