The City Council recently passed wide-reaching changes that reserve one side of the street for resident parking, leaving the other side for residents, businesspeople, people with visitor permits, or drivers who park there for less than four hours.
Those who support the changes say that the new rules will give residents and taxpayers a leg up on finding that rare space, and they say the rules will also drive shoppers and visitors into the city's municipal garages on the waterfront.
But local business owners have a less rosy impression. They complain that the regulations will steer shoppers to other cities.
The city said two weeks ago that the version of the ordinance that was passed should have included exceptions for Washington Street and other parts of the city's business district, and that they intend to exempt these areas. But they have not announced which areas specifically will be exempt.
Real estate agents say that it will be tough to show properties in town because of the limited spots for business permit holders. Merchants say their clients and deliverers will find it tough to park near their stores. Local teachers complained at a recent meeting that it'll be harder to park near their schools in the morning.
"It going to have a big effect on every business in town," said Chamber of Commerce President John Parchinsky Thursday. "You're effectively eliminating 50 percent of the parking spaces that shoppers and store employees can use when they come to Hoboken, and when it is all said and done, they are not creating a single new parking space."
Parchinsky, who owns a local insurance firm, added that he believes the new rules will force shoppers and diners to other municipalities in an already tough economy.
"For the first time in a while, you're seeing empty storefronts up and down Washington Street," he said. "It's tough for local businesses right now, and this only makes it worse."
The rules will also affect residents who might need a plumber, electrician, or other contractor to park near their house. The new rules do, however, allow contractors to apply for temporary business permits.
Ed Waterson, a resident of Bergen County, was outside the Brass Rail on Washington Street on Tuesday waiting to meet friends for dinner. He said that even though he doesn't live here, he is well aware of the city's parking problems.
"Hoboken has a reputation for bad parking," he said. "Everyone knows that you have to leave an extra 20 minutes early to park here. I don't see how these new rules are going to make it better for people like me who come here to eat dinner occasionally. In fact, it's probably going to make it much harder to find a parking space. It might even keep people away."
However, there were municipal garages around the corner from Waterson. First Ward Councilwoman Theresa Castellano, a frequent critic of the administration, said that what the Parking Authority should concentrate on is publicizing those garages and their special programs, rather than changing the rules.
Under the city's Park-and-Shop program, diners and shoppers can have a ticket to park validated at participating stores in Hoboken. The merchants can purchase 200 hours of parking in one of the city's garages for $100 and then pass that savings on to their customers at a cost of only 50 cents per hour for up to four hours.
Another program that the HPA sponsors is the Merchant Program for store and restaurant employees. Employees can get up to eight hours of parking validated per day at approximately 45 cents per hour.
"These programs shouldn't be the best kept secret in town," Castellano said. "No one knows about them. There aren't signs or posters or anything. They have some good programs, but the [HPA] doesn't have the forethought to promote them."
She also criticized the HPA for not making it attractive for local merchants to participate in the Park and Shop Program and the Employee Merchant Program. To participate in these programs, the merchants must buy a validation machine for $250. But each machine is only able to validate for a certain time. A two-hour machine, for example, can only validate for two hours. Therefore, storeowners who want to participate in the Park and Shop and the Merchant Program for different lengths of time would have to acquire more than one machine. A second and third machine will cost $850 each.
City Councilman Ruben Ramos, who is the chairman of the council's Transportation Sub-Committee, said the impact won't be nearly as extreme as some business owners are making it out to be.
"Hopefully it's not going to have a large negative effect on local businesses," said Ramos. "Sure, at first there is going to be a learning curve. But once people start getting acclimated to the rules, I'm confident that they will start using the garages more."
Ramos added that the entire purpose of the regulations is to give taxpaying residents an advantage.
"It's not our goal to hurt businesses," he said. "It's our goal to provide parking for the residents and encourage patrons of the restaurants and stores to utilize the city's municipal garages. Our purpose is to give residents the leg up. They're the ones who pay large quantities of taxes. They live here and they also use the city's businesses. They deserve a break."
Castellano, who owns City Discount, a retail store on Washington Street, said, "They are cutting our throats. It's extremely negative and overbearing and will seriously hurt businesses."
The truth is, though, this program is untested in Hoboken, and everyone has a different theory on what will happen. It may help tremendously. It may hurt. It may help one group and hurt another. City officials feel that, with current parking such a problem, it's worth trying.
HPA Commissioner Daniel DeCavaignac, who has spearheaded the movement to overhaul the city's resident parking program, said that programs like this have been tried and have been successful in other places around the county. He pointed to Cambridge, Mass., where there is "Resident Only Parking," on all city streets, not just half of them. "Cambridge is an affluent urban area just like Hoboken, and its businesses are thriving," said DeCavaignac Friday. "The intent [of these regulations] is to change the driving behavior of the people that come into Hoboken. We would like to have people look at alternative methods to get to Hoboken and to use mass transit. Once that happens, there will be an extremely beneficial impact on both the city's traffic patterns and parking availability."
Business owners say there's still time for the city to at least change the ordinance enough so that it doesn't scare away customers and make it impossible to get deliveries.
"If [a real estate] agent has to drive around the block 10 times just to find a parking spot, it's going to throw big red flags," said John LaBarbera, the owner of Realty Express LaBarbera, Tuesday. "I don't know if there is a perfect solution, but creating a hardship on the people that helped build the city up isn't the answer."
LaBarbera suggested giving visitor and business permit holders a one-hour grace period on the "Resident Parking Only" side of the street. He said that would give his agents ample time to show their property and then leave.