Parking wars put South Side firms, residents in a spot

A residential permit program has some businesses saying they will leave the community.

Pittsburgh's South Side is scrambling to avoid becoming an example of the classic malaprop from New York Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

The struggle is balancing a pulsing night life and strong neighborhood shops with a thriving housing community that has a mix of new and longtime residents. That means there will be conflicts, and the latest -- establishment last month of a noon-to-midnight residential permit parking program for several blocks south of East Carson Street between 10th and 17th streets -- has some businesses saying they are looking to relocate.

The problem is simple: South Side transforms on the weekend with as many as 10,000 visitors to the neighborhood's restaurants and bars. The problem is accommodating everyone conveniently.

Residents, who used a city program to sign petitions and establish the permit parking area, say it's necessary so they can get a parking space within three blocks of home. Business owners, including daytime neighborhood shops and evening bars and restaurants, say the additional restrictions leave employees and customers with few places to legally park.

PG graphic: South Side permit parking
(Click image for larger version)

In the permit area, visitors are limited to two hours of parking.

George Dorfner, who has operated Brunner's Garage on South 15th Street since 1968, said limited parking could force him to retire. He has a parking lot for 16 cars, but that fills quickly and he routinely either has customers leave cars on the street overnight for service in the morning or he leaves finished vehicles to be picked up after garage hours.

For the first time Monday, a customer's car got a $45 ticket for overtime parking in a permit area.

"It's not how you plan to go out of business -- being forced out by some parking situation," said Mr. Dorfner, 70. "I have no idea what they're thinking. They went from one extreme," unlimited parking, "to the other," residential permit parking.

"I've got to see how bad it's going to be," he said. "I can't have my customers getting tickets."

Mike Quinn, who owns Web design firm Yellow Bridge Interactive on East Carson Street, said he and four employees have a problem finding parking within five blocks of the business.

"I think the biggest problem is they don't offer permits to employees," said Mr. Quinn, who recently received a $45 parking ticket. "We would be willing to pay if it was available. They just didn't leave us with any alternative."

The issue bubbled over at a heated meeting of the South Side Community Council on Tuesday evening, where business representatives lobbied unsuccessfully for changes in the permit parking area.

"We're trying to meet a happy medium here," said Mike Clark, vice president of the community group. "We're working with them, but they aren't working with us. There's no give and take."

Mr. Clark said he sees the permit parking area as a sort of administrative slap in the face to get the attention of the business community. It comes in the midst of a weekend police enforcement blitz to crack down on nighttime revelers who get out of hand with illegal parking, public drunkenness and other activities.

He said it's time for business owners to step forward to help solve the situation.

"As residents, [lack of parking for employees and customers] isn't our problem," he said. "[Bars and restaurants] are making money hand over fist over here. Their attitude is: The way of East Carson is the way of the neighborhood.

"We want to strike a balance between the daytime businesses, the nighttime businesses and the residents."

That's what business operators want, too, said Kim Collins, president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce. She operates Blue Tomato Design, a Web design firm, and lives in the neighborhood.

"How do we create a plan that allows profitability for the businesses and supports the quality of life for residents?" Ms. Collins asked.

She described the business community as "very frustrated" by the new permit area because it leaves street after street almost empty during daylight hours, but workers and customers can only use those areas on a limited basis. The neighborhood needs a "comprehensive" parking solution, she said, not piecemeal permit areas.

"Yes, parking is difficult, but now it's almost impossible," she said. "We've had several businesses -- one of them with 25 employees -- tell us they have to look elsewhere. The last thing people should be doing is trying to drive businesses out."

Ms. Collins and Councilman Bruce Kraus, who represents the South Side, say they have high hopes for recommendations included in the Responsible Hospitality Institute study released in December. The nonprofit recommends ways to help entertainment and residential districts coexist.

"It's not so much we have a parking problem -- we have a vehicle problem," Mr. Kraus said. "Where do you put them all? We're all being asked for adjustments. We're trying to find a sense of balance."

The neighborhood study recommends a series of transportation and parking changes -- including off-site parking -- to ease congestion. Some of those suggestions, such as shuttling employees and partyers to and from the 800-space Second Avenue garage and establishing taxi stands at five locations, will be used on a trial basis for the city's St. Patrick's Day celebration March 16, said Jim Peters, president of the hospitality institute.

"I think people have to be educated about the availability of parking," Mr. Peters said. "We'll try [the Second Avenue shuttle system]. That could relieve some of the traffic congestion."

Joe Rembisz, manager of Slacker, said he doesn't know whether changes will come quickly enough to meet the needs of his clothing and novelty business. He has two employees, and another business that shares space at East Carson and 14th Street has three more.

"It's just an ongoing war," he said. "They didn't make any allowance for the people who work here."

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Ed Blazina: or 412-263-1470. First Published March 7, 2013 5:00 AM


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