Updated as of Feb. 28 at 3:42 p.m. to include an additional photo.
A main problem Elon residents have with downtown Elon is a lack of parking. Benchmark planning, a consulting firm hired by the town of Elon to create a master plan for downtown Elon, proposed metered parking in some locations downtown. During the Feb. 27 council meeting, Benchmark planning shared findings of a survey and focus groups they hosted for input on downtown Elon.
Jason Epley and Dan Douglas of the firm presented the findings from the survey and focus groups — phase one of their development plan. The focus groups included students, business owners, property owners, town staff and any additional stakeholders and had 269 responses, 12% of them being Elon students.
Participants' least favorite thing about downtown was parking. Epley said there are currently 577 parking spots, including private parking such as the Elon Community Church parking lot.
Douglas said all types of parking were needed and there is a lack of parking particularly during the day when students are driving to class. Mayor Emily Sharpe said this is something she’s noticed despite some of the downtown parking being specifically marked for downtown businesses.
“I saw students pull in, get out of their car, grab their backpack and walk across the street to the university,” Sharpe said. “Definitely an issue you know, during the day. And my family frequents downtown in the evening for dinner and events and I've never had a hard time finding parking. It's definitely during the day like 7:30 a.m. it kind of starts until right around 5 p.m.”
Sharpe said she wasn’t sure how metered parking would fix this issue as she said some students will park in a designated one-hour parking spot, knowing they will likely get a ticket just for convenience. Douglas said that metered parking is still something that would make students less likely to park downtown.
“The only way to really make that more painful to discourage it is to raise that fine number and then maybe the less financially well-off students will start to walk or ride their bike or park somewhere else, and you can whittle down that demand that students have for close parking, but I don't think you're ever going to get rid of it,” Douglas said. “Some students just don't care and they'll park and mom and dad will pay the ticket and that's the way it goes.”
Douglas said the parking problem generally is not that there is no parking available, it’s that people want parking right in front of where they are going, which is not always available.
“People want to be able to think in their head when they leave their house, I might be able to find a spot very near to where I'm going,” Douglas said. “The way you do that, and not every city does this, you keep raising the price of parking in the highest demand area till at any given time, there's one empty spot. And then you’ve hit the right number.”
Douglas said after talking to business owners during focus groups, metered parking is something most of them support, as long as parking becomes free after 6 p.m. and on weekends.
Other findings included people looking for more public gathering space, more things for students to do off campus, but also more things for full-time residents as others in the survey felt that downtown was “just seen as a place for students.”
Phase two of the development plan is a series of three different workshops, open to anyone to discuss the findings of the survey and earlier focus groups and from there discuss what people are looking for in downtown Elon.
These workshops will be held April 25, May 4 and May 11. Phase three is the drafting of the downtown master plan. The next town council meeting will be at 6 p.m. March 14.