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Tempers flare at parking forum in hot parking lot on St. Mary's strip

Residents and businesses are at odds when it comes to parking enforcement. The outdoor meeting on Saturday had some heated, both literally and figuratively.

SAN ANTONIO — Construction activity surrounding St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on North St. Mary's made getting to a Saturday morning Town Hall meeting something like negotiating a mine field.

Traffic control officers helped motorists make it through a maze of detours, while pedestrians from the neighborhood dodged drivers distracted by the construction.

Once at the church, the challenges continued as the meeting was scheduled in a room that accommodates about 50 people. By the stated start time of the meeting, there were easily 200 people present.

City staff members abandoned their plan for a PowerPoint presentation in air conditioned comfort and moved the event to the church parking lot.

Numerous elderly residents aided by walkers and canes crept up the steps, while those with health complications sought shade at the fringe of the crowd.

While District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo started the meeting sharing his personal history with the area, his effort to keep the event positive and forward focused was often drowned out by shouts from frustrated people on both sides of a contentious issue.

Bravo said neighborhood residents deserve to live with security and peace, while area businesses in the hospitality industry need to continue to work on viable solutions.   

Bravo said long-time residents have been besieged by late-night revelers who cause all kinds of challenges for years.

His words were often met with jeers.

At issue, is something city staff is calling a Residential Parking Permit Pilot Proposal.

The proposal suggests that parking along the St. Mary's strip neighborhood area would be restricted to residents only from 10pm-6am.

The parking ban would mean industry workers who work at the bars or patrons would be unable to park in the area. 

Chad Carey, the President of the North St. Mary's Business Owners Association, said "The residential parking program as proposed is a terrible idea. Period."

Carey was one of many who said that there had been meetings over time, but the proposal being pushed forward now has had zero input from the hospitality industry.

"The notice for this meeting went out eight days ago via email.  Whatever they're advocating for, it has not been published anywhere publicly. No one knows any information about this, still," Carey said, adding that staging the event in a hot parking lot with no public address system was disastrous.

"There were opportunities for them to have this in a different arena, that wasn't outside standing in a parking lot and it didn't happen," Carey said.

Dawn Ann Larios, the Executive Director of the Texas Restaurant Association made a passionate case in defense of local businesses, saying between the pandemic and a seemingly never-ending construction project in the area, the many small operators are really hurting.  She said while she understands concerns of residents, city streets remain public domain.

"Those are city streets and patrons have every right to park there," Larios said, adding that no parking signs on some streets have created bigger problems as residents fight to keep people out.

"Now they've gotten crafty and they are putting out trash receptacles to keep people from parking and they are not working on solutions," Larios said.

One man who said his family has been in the area for decades said parking issues can quickly escalate to the point where lives are in danger.

"My parents are elderly. They had to go to the hospital suddenly but it's very difficult to get out of the street, especially when they park in front of your driveway," the man said. 

Angry at the conditions, a woman named Ione had several cases of water delivered.

"I got this out of my own pocket, out of my rent money," Ione said "They've got us standing out here yelling across the parking lot and yelling at us for yelling, even though there's no PA." Ione called the situation more insulting than painful.

"They talk about family. The strip is my family. I've lived down here. I've worked down here and they're getting mad at us for getting heated. We're literally getting heated," Ione said.

Bravo told the crowd that the proposal was scheduled for a vote by city council on October 20, but he is working to get the issue postponed, saying there needs to be more time for more and more thoughtful public input.

"We're reaching out to anybody who has a parking lot available in the region to see if we can work out an arrangement with them and there can be shuttle services and we're going to continue to take public input," Bravo said.

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