SALISBURY -- There's no parking problem in the downtown, says Mayor Jim Ireton, who just released results of a study he contends will back up his claim.
"There's not a single politician, not a single blog that can argue with this," Ireton said. "(They say) there's a parking problem downtown. No, there's not."
During the past month-and-a-half, city staffers counted spaces used in the parking garage and in five nearby lots. Data collection was conducted at four time intervals throughout the day, Monday through Friday, and averaged. Ireton said the results indicate that if the five lots were eliminated and those vehicles were moved to the parking garage, there would still be 55 spaces available.
James Munn of Salisbury said he visits the downtown area a few times a month and generally has no trouble finding parking.
"The (Wicomico County District) Court lot is a problem area because it's tiny and you have to keep driving around in circles to find a spot," Munn said. "But the rest of (the downtown) is really not a problem."
Bryan Parker, also of Salisbury, said he uses the city parking garage several times each week and is afraid the elimination of several downtown lots will not leave as many spaces as the mayor thinks.
"There are a lot of people who use (the parking garage) during the day, and usually the top level is full," Parker said. "I think more people use it than (the mayor) realizes."
The parking study was conducted to supplement a plan rolled out by the mayor in February when he delivered the annual State of the City address.
The proposal is a conglomeration of several studies conducted through the past 30 years in the downtown, Ireton said, adding, "This plan is not mine. Any good teacher will tell you to find the best lesson plan you can and make it your own. That's what we've done."
The overall objective, he said, is to transform the expansive parking lots that now separate downtown from the riverfront into a mixed-use urban center by 2020. The plan stands to increase the number of jobs downtown by 300, the number of housing units by 500, the resident population by 750 and the amount of commercial square footage by 100,000. The plan removes 25 percent of the downtown's impervious surface area, which allows untreated stormwater runoff to enter the Wicomico River.
In addition to waterfront parking lots, city- and privately owned vacant buildings are being eyeballed for potential development.
City staffers plan to recruit developers from all over the country to undertake projects in the downtown. However, to attract developers, Ireton said the city needs to offer more incentives.
Already in place is the Revolving Loan Fund, the Enterprise Zone, the Sustainable Community Designation, the Historic District and the Arts & Entertainment District.
Now, Ireton is proposing an Equivalent Dwelling Unit Free Zone that would eliminate the fee charged to connect to the city's water supply. The zone would use 190 EDU credits belonging to the former Linens of the Week property. They would be applied to the charges levied upon development proposals in the downtown area on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ireton said he has confirmed with the city attorney this practice is legal.
"We can legally use them in the state of Maryland if we are creating jobs and creating commercial space," he said. "We need to send legislation to the City Council to approve the zone in the downtown and give the Department of Public Works and the Proposal Review Committee the ability to approve the use of those EDUs."
The mayor has also proposed a 65 percent reduction in the city's water capacity fee, which is now priced at $8,508 and is ranked the fifth-highest in the state. The reduction would change the cost to $3,873, dropping Salisbury down to the second-lowest in the state.
All of these changes must be approved by the council, and Ireton is asking residents to contact their representatives to bolster support. He also said development will not eliminate parking in the downtown.
"Remember that every one of these development plans will have parking spaces associated with them," he said. "It's not like all of a sudden you're going to come downtown and there will be no parking spaces left at all."