Michelle Miller The Cooperstown Crier
---- — The village of Cooperstown, Mayor Jeff Katz and the village trustees have been served.
A lawsuit seeking to oust Cooperstown’s paid parking was handed out individually at a village meeting Monday night.
The first person to speak during public comment was Brenda Berstler who filed the suit with attorney James Konstanty on Friday. Susan Lettis, a process server representing Konstanty, provided the court order to show cause of petition that has 27 supporters along with Berstler and her company, Savor Gracie Inc. The suit is returnable Friday, July 26, in state Supreme Court.
Berstler said the action was taken on advice of counsel to preserve the right of Cooperstown resident and business owners to legally challenge Local Law 3 of 2013, a right that would have expired June 25.
“The result of paid parking implementation in the Cooperstown central business district on Memorial Day Weekend has been a startling loss of revenue,” she said. “This is catastrophic for the entire retail shopping area.”
Berstler said paid parking has been confusing for visitors, caused discontent among residents and created an atmosphere of general ill-will for all.
“This is hardly the reputation Cooperstown, or any village, wishes to cultivate — particularly our historic village of national prominence,” she said.
The owner of Savor New York at 171 Main St. called the $2 per hour fee outrageous, the signage inadequate and the machines confusing and malfunctioning.
“There is a constant threat of expensive ticketing that encourages anyone, resident or visitor, to hurry up and get out of town,” she said. “It’s hardly the welcome that encourages people to wander our village to shop dine and ‘Savor Cooperstown.’”
According to Berstler, every business owner understands the need for working capital and constant overhead costs, just as they understand the need for improvements in Cooperstown’s infrastructure.
“We are willing to work with the village to solve these issues, if our voices are given all due credence,” she said.
According to Katz, it was the board’s intent to talk about on-street paid parking during the meeting, but since there has been legal action taken board members would not discuss any part of the law that is under legal challenge. However, he said board members could talk about other paid parking matters such as the machines themselves.
Also at the meeting, Stagecoach Coffee’s Rod Torrence presented initial results of a questionnaire seeking information from downtown merchants about the impact of paid parking on their businesses and customers. Contrary to what village officials are claiming, Torrence said, the effects of paid parking have been instantaneous and unmistakable to business owners with virtually every respondent reporting an immediate negative impact on sales and customer behavior. For example, he said, “The Village Cobbler’s positive growth trend abruptly ended with paid parking, with sales now trending negatively. Reid’s Barbershop reports the loss of hundreds of dollars in weekly revenue since paid parking. Rudy’s Liquor Store, one of the village’s most venerable shops, is losing $100 a day in sales versus 2012 since Memorial Day. Tins & Bins has experienced a $2,000 sales decline between Memorial Day and June 20 compared to last year. Willis Monie Books went from positive sales increases in May to negative sales in June. Muskrat Hill reports a revenue loss of $8,000 in just three weeks since the advent of paid parking. Stagecoach Coffee, after doubling its seating capacity in February, has seen the sales momentum from its expansion drop by $250 a day. Sal’s Pizzeria claims to have lost local support and is unsure whether area customers will ever return. Locals tell Sal’s they are being ‘punished’ for being local and simply will not use paid parking …”
The list goes on.
Christopher Grady, owner at Stagecoach Coffee, said he worries he is afraid people are going to change their shopping habits.
“Are they going to wake up in the fall and say let’s head to Cooperstown? I don’t have an answer to that.”
Not everyone is unhappy with the paid parking however. A few village residents spoke about the positive effects it has had for them such as being able to find a parking spot more easily.
Richard Blabey of Grove Street suggested the village add the option of purchasing the $25 parking permit on the tax bill so residents do not have to make a special trip into town to obtain one.
Jim Donley of Chestnut Street said he is a supporter of using paid parking for extra revenue and is happy he can now find a place to park. He said he feels his visits to the village have increased since the implementation of paid parking because of the better access driving into town. However, he added he does not dispute the business problems.
“I encourage the board to work out these problems and to not give up the revenue,” he said.
Donley said he feels the implementation was lacking and it would help to have people around to help with the machines since there seems to be a lot of confused people gathered around them.
Paul Clark of Main Street said he just wants the board to listen to everybody.
“This group of trustees is going to be noted for putting a knife in the heart of Cooperstown’s business district and turning it and stabbing it,” he said.
Clark said the village does not welcome visitors, like its website and signs into town advertise.
“You are chasing them away,” he said.