BLUE RIDGE, Ga. — A city councilwoman's suggestion to install parking meters in downtown Blue Ridge to generate revenue and prevent people from hogging parking spaces doesn't sit well with merchants in the tourist destination.
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 packed into City Hall recently to speak out against the meters.
"The biggest thing we hear is how friendly everybody is," said Danny Mellman, a chef who opened two upscale eateries on East Main Street after moving to Blue Ridge from Florida. "I think our 'friendly' goes out the window when somebody walks back and they have a $50 ticket."
Opposition was unanimous from the 14 people who signed up to speak. Dena Martin, a member of the Blue Ridge Business Association, gave council members an online petition that she said carried 1,895 signatures against parking meters.
Parking congestion has been a longstanding problem downtown, speakers agreed. Prime spaces are taken by employees and business owners who should park farther away and walk, they said, and by passengers on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway.
"If the train takes 500 passengers, an average of three people per car, you're looking at 170 parking spaces taken up for up to eight hours a day. And some of those trains run twice a day," Martin said. "We love the train, but there should be another solution."
A shuttle bus could deliver tourists from a parking area to downtown, Blue Ridge Fly Fishing owner Jeff Turner said last week outside his business on narrow, heavily trafficked East Main Street.
Architect Rick LaRosa once sketched a plan for a parking deck in downtown Blue Ridge. Turner thinks that might be a solution. Turner went to college in nearby Dahlonega, Ga., another tourist destination. He said parking structures built there helped alleviate parking problems.
Turner opposes parking meters.
"This is a nice, generous, sweet place," he said. "We don't want anyone to end up with a parking ticket on their car."
Councilwoman Angie Arp said last week that parking meters aren't off the table as city officials consider solutions. City government only has enough money to pay its bills, she said.
"Without money, we can't build a parking deck. Hopefully, we can get some grants," Arp said.
She's not sure a parking deck jibes with Blue Ridge's image, anyway.
"If you do a parking deck, that's not quaint. That's not small town," she said.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.