HOUSTON— Washington Avenue’s nightspots could soon share their hot real estate with a crop of parking meters, possibly setting a precedent that could bring metered parking to more streets around the city.
After months of study and debate, city administrators this week will seek approval to establish what they’re calling a "parking benefit district" around the Washington corridor. If council members vote for the idea, 60-percent of the proceeds would be dedicated to improvements along the often crowded entertainment corridor.
Drivers would pay $1 an hour during the day and $2 an hour after 6 p.m. They would also have the option if paying a flat fee of $7 for parking in a single space all night.
An advisory board comprised of residents and business owners in the districts would decide how to spend the money.
Civic association leaders applaud the idea and business owners have written letters of support, but many individual residents and customers are skeptical.
"People already don’t want to pay to park in the parking lot where the bars are," said Bernard Preston, a resident of one of the neighborhoods adjacent to the busy avenue. "Now they’re going to pay on the meters? It’s going to create more havoc inside the neighborhood."
But civic leaders who helped negotiate the deal believe the money it generates will help improve the quality of life along the rapidly developing entertainment district.
Phyllis Thomason, the president of the Washington on Westcott Roundabout Initiative that established and beautified a traffic circle on one end of the street, looks to what her group has done as a model for what could happen elsewhere on the avenue.
"We’d like to see what we’ve done just continue on down the street, with wider sidewalks, better lighting, more security and safer places for people to walk," Thomason said.
The group could also spend some of its revenue on a parking garage, which some residents suggest is the only way to alleviate the parking problems along Washington.
The plan would also expand a residential parking permit program that basically allows only the residents of certain streets to park their cars on their own blocks.
"It allows me as a resident of that block to park there and not have any issues. No one else can park there," Thomason said. "There are signs that are put up that lets anyone who drives down this street know that during certain hours they are not welcome to park there."
Washington was once known mainly for older and less glamorous businesses like used car lots and tire shops, but in the last decade it suddenly boomed into the city’s fastest growing entertainment district. That’s created problems for residents of the adjacent neighborhoods, many of whom live in newly constructed townhouse projects now plagued by the problems brought by heavy traffic and drunken nightclub patrons. Neighbors routinely pick up beer bottles out of their lawns and they often complain about noise from the nearby bars.
"Parking is not good," Preston said. "And they try to park wherever they can park. They kind of destroy the landscaping of the neighborhood."
Customers at Benji’s, a popular restaurant on Washington, grimaced at the idea of sticking coins and credit cards into meters for the privilege of parking.
"I can’t imagine parking meters on Washington," said Danita Holmes, a Benji’s patron who joined some friends for lunch.
"I don’t think anybody likes it, especially in Houston," said her friend, Vicki Carroll. "We’re just not used to that. If we were in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, we would expect it."
The new parking plan is a pilot project that will be reviewed after 18 months. If it works, advocates suggest it could become a model for other parking meter plans in other neighborhoods around the city.
Houston city council is scheduled to vote on the program on Wednesday.