The end of free parking at the shopping plaza on Wilton Drive and Northeast 6 Avenue, across from The Shoppes of Wilton Manors, has drawn the ire of Scott Herman.
Unlike government-owned parking lots, privately-owned lots aren’t required to provide free parking to individuals with disabled permits. But Herman, a disabled Iraq War veteran and Oakland Park Commission candidate, called the change “dishonorable and disgraceful,” a “declaration of war” and an attempt to “profit” off of veterans and other disabled individuals.
Herman said it’s not fair to charge disabled individuals for parking because it often takes them longer to get in and out of their cars, resulting is less parking time for the same money paid by a person without disabilities. He also criticized the signage, saying the multiple companies allowed to tow from the plaza could be confusing to someone who gets towed. The handicapped signs also don’t inform drivers that they have to pay. A handicapped driver might not know they have to pay and get towed, said Herman. That could result in a loss of access to medication.
He called upon the community to place pressure on the business owners and the shopping plaza’s owner to stop charging for handicapped parking. “It’s an embarrassment upon the community itself. Those business owners should be yelling.”
In an email from Asta Parking, the company overseeing the lot, to Herman, Regional Manager Rich Haestier wrote that a lot of private lots charge for disabled parking. A call to Haestier was not returned in time for publication. The Gazette was also unable to reach the owner of the plaza.
Under the new rules, parking is free for all customers for the first hour. After that, parking is $2 per hour, $5 for three hours and $10 for six hours. Customers still need to register their vehicle at the meter to claim their one-hour of free parking. The receipt must be placed on the dash of the vehicles. Those who don’t pay run the risk of having their vehicle booted or towed.
Nick Berry, who co-owns Courtyard Café, said the owner didn’t give him and the other tenants enough warning about the new meters. “He put the pay parking in and didn’t even ask us.” After the meters were installed, Berry and the other tenants met with the owner and he agreed to let employees park for free and to let customers have one free hour of parking.
But Berry said he lost business from customers before the one-hour of free parking was instituted and he’s had to spend money on advertising to inform customers they have one hour of free parking. He added that he has not ruled out a lawsuit against the owner.
Other business owners said they’re glad the parking meters were installed.
“Before, we had a lot of people [who aren’t customers] park for three, four, five hours. No one needs more than an hour,” said Adam Ghazawnah, owner of True Blue Clothing.
“Bottom line, Wilton Manors in general has a very serious parking problem. Ours has been abused for way too long. Most people don’t even shop at our plaza,” said Leor Barak, owner of New York Grilled Cheese. He said he understands why the owner installed meters – to pay for the repaving and restriping that was mandated by the city.
Antonio Dumas, owner of To The Moon, said there are pros and cons. He likes the look of the repaved lot and he understands that paying for parking is something that happens almost everywhere now.
“It happens to all small towns. You go to Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, there’s no free parking down there. If you want to go to a business, you’re going to go.” Parking is just a price people have to pay.
As for deterring non-customers from taking up space, Dumas doesn’t think it will work.
He said a lot of people won’t mind paying for three hours of parking for the convenience of parking at the plaza, which is located near the largest concentration of bars and restaurants on Wilton Drive. “Big deal. I’ll pay for three hours for the convenience.”