A few weeks ago, heads were turned and tempers flared in and around the 8400 and 8500 blocks of Germantown Avenue where local realty firm Berkshire Hathaway Fox & Roach had erected 18 signs reserving parking spaces for its agents in the parking lot behind the west side of the 8400 block of Germantown Ave.
When I took a stroll through the lot to check it out, one worker of a nearby business who was on a smoke break pointed to the signs.
“Can you believe that?” he asked. “Ridiculous.”
Parking has always been a touchy issue in Chestnut Hill, despite the fact that there are probably enough spaces in the many, spacious lots for Avenue businesses, their shoppers and employees. In fact, not long ago, the Chestnut Hill Parking Foundation, which managed all the lots in the “upper Hill,” was worried it wouldn’t be able to continue to pay for lot maintenance because usage was so low. After a year or two of an assessments that failed to bring in adequate funding, the parking foundation turned to kiosks. And we know how popular those have been.
Two lot owners pulled their lots out of the parking foundation – leased year to year at $1 annually in a decades-old agreement – and suddenly the plentiful parking of Chestnut Hill became far more restricted and expensive for the average shopper.
Acadia, which owns the lot in which the Fox & Roach spaces raised hackles, pulled the lot in early 2010. It put up signs warning those who weren’t patronizing its tenants would be towed. The opening of Weavers Way Co-op on the blockmade that lot the most popular in Chestnut Hill. Once the kiosks were installed in other lots, parking in the Acadia lots became nearly impossible.
So it should come as no surprise that Fox & Roach, which is paying rent to Acadia, would want to reserve spaces for its realtors and customers. If it had not done so, there’s no way the new Avenue office would have been a viable place to do business.
Yet, despite the legal high ground that can be claimed by Acadia, the public has decided it has abandoned the moral high ground. It’s angry about crowded free lots and angry about kiosk-metered lots patrolled aggressively by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
In the letter this week by Hill resident Diamantino Machado, he observes that a long standing social compact has been broken between businesses and the community. “There are no denizens. There are only customers,” he writes.
Machado’s comments sum up what many residents of Chestnut Hill feel. Ther is, however, another saying: “There’s no free lunch.” Someone has to pay for the lots. In the case of Acadia, the landlord is footing the bill for spaces, but doing so exclusively for its tenants and their patrons. In other lots still run by the parking foundation, the burden of paying for the lots has been placed on the shoppers.
Is there a way to offer free parking to everybody again? That would force businesses in the neighborhood to foot the bill again – a system that had not been working. The current system might be fair, but it is not working out for a parking public that’s used to getting the same for free.