On Graham Avenue between Frost and Withers Streets, a quarter will get you 20 minutes at a meter, and most likely an earful from business owners, community residents and passersby about the trials and tribulations of parking in Williamsburg.
On January 22, the one-block commercial stretch of Graham Avenue saw the installation of a brand new set of parking meters, offering visitors an opportunity to park on the street for as long as they like. Though the placement of parking meters on Graham Avenue may seem like a relatively unobjectionable addition to the neighborhood—especially considering the advantages it presents to shop owners whose customers are otherwise forced to double park or search of a spot on a side-street—the meters are causing an unexpected schism on the block.
“As a resident and a business owner, I think these meters are good for everyone in the neighborhood,” said Maria Columbo, who co-owns La Laconda restaurant with her husband, and lives on Ainslie Street. The Columbos were the first on the block to suggest parking meters as a way to bolster business, and launched a petition asking for their neighbors’ signatures in support of the proposal. They decided that meters would be in the best interests of both business owners and neighborhood residents, for a host of reasons, not the least of which being that as an overcrowded commercial city street, Graham Avenue is particularly prone to double-parking, which leads to tickets and accidents, and the installation of meters would eliminate these problems. Additionally, meters would allow more people from outside the neighborhood to patronize the variety of commercial establishments on the block comfortably and conveniently, without having to worry about their cars being towed or ticketed.
“When I first got here 17 years ago, we were the only ones,” Columbo said. “But now, there are twelve shops on this block! This is the way the neighborhood is going.”
After sending the petition to the Brooklyn Department of Transportation, their request was granted, and the meters were installed shortly thereafter. “Finally our customers are happy. Customers used to leave because they couldn’t find parking, but now they can come, park, sit and eat in the restaurant for an hour. It’s good for everybody.”
Though, apparently not everybody thinks so.
In response to the parking meters, CB1—located on the corner of Graham Avenue and Frost Street, just an intersection away from the metered block—issued an angry letter to community residents expressing their disappointment at not being notified of DOT’s plans.
“It’s borderline unconscionable to do something like this based on a letter. A lot of merchants and residents have come in to complain about the meters,” said CB1 District Manager Gerry Esposito. Esposito explained that in the past plans for meters have been presented to the Community Board ahead of time, before any final decisions were made. Esposito went on to say, however, that if DOT protocol does not require a community board review for meter installation, and if the majority of the businesses are in fact in favor of the Graham Avenue meters, the community board will be satisfied. “If everyone is happy, I can’t complain,” he added. “But I’m getting complaints.”
The petition was signed by 10 of the 12 business on the block—the two business owners who refrained were allegedly not at work when Marie Columbo stopped by. However, despite the mass approval of business owners, certain neighbors and community residents have been vocal about their disappointment and frustration.
“As a business owner, it’s good for me, but I feel bad for the residents because I hear them complaining about not being able to park anymore,” said Jerry Aliperti, owner of Emily’s Pork Store. “I’ve had customers come and say ‘Hey! I can’t believe there’s a spot!’ They used to come in to get a $3 loaf of bread and leave with a $118 parking ticket. But, it’s hard for residents who get home late from work and have to park four blocks away just to get home.”
“I’m happy, but also I’m a little sad,” Columbo said. “I really thought I was doing something good, I never meant to spite the community board, or my neighbors. I love people and I just try to make them happy. I didn’t think to go to the community board, because I didn’t have to. It just didn’t occur to me. It was just a business decision.”