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'A direct, deliberate attack': Business owners furious over proposed parking permit program

A pilot program to solve the parking issue near the St. Mary's Strip is a proposed solution that will be up for discussion this weekend.

SAN ANTONIO — For years, Tobin Hill residents voiced their concerns about the crime, noise and parking problems in their neighborhood.

They claim it all stems from bars and restaurants along the St. Mary's Strip.

Bar owners say they're frustrated, too. Now, a new proposed pilot program to solve the parking issue is adding to the stress of keeping their business alive.

"It feels like a direct, deliberate attack on nightlife and hospitality," said Aaron Peña, owner of The Squeezebox.

Peña says he, along with 20+ business owners along North St. Mary's, are preparing for another battle to keep doors open.

"We're dealing with obstacle after obstacle," said Peña. "This is poorly timed, so we need to get this off the table."

Peña is one of many bar owners who will be affected by the city's new Overnight Residential Permit Parking Program (ORPP) which would grant street parking exclusively to residents in designated areas from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Credit: Councilman Mario Bravo's Office
Map with proposed boundaries for parking permit program.

Notice of the proposed pilot program was sent to Peña in an e-mail Monday.

Credit: Aaron Peña
Letter sent to Aaron Peña Monday, September 19.

Peña says if this pilot comes to fruition, it's going to hurt his business.

"I can't go on the side streets and park. So what are the solutions? Are you gonna park me 30 minutes away and shuttle me down here? It's not feasible. It's not logical, and it's gonna kill small businesses like mine," he explained.

Peña says there are other things like ongoing construction and a new noise ordinance that are making matters worse. Some business owners, he says, reported losing up to $15,000 a month.

"I want this to be discussed when construction is over because until that street is fixed, we don't know what the world looks like for us," said Peña, who's been vocal on social media about the proposed parking permit program.

Councilman Mario Bravo, who presides over District 1 and the St. Mary's Strip, has met with neighbors and bar owners in the past to come up with solutions. Peña says his last conversation with Bravo was months ago, discussing the results of a parking study. 

"The data that was released from that parking study only said that the number of cars that drive up and down the street, the days that they're coming, the time of night they're coming. It said nothing about this proposed parking program for residents," said Peña.

The construction which entails installing new utilities, lighting, sidewalks and expanded roads along N. St. Mary's is set to be complete in August 2024.

RELATED: 'They urinate in my yard': St. Mary's Strip traffic study aims to address concerns of parking and crime

Alfonso Robalin, the Interim President of the Tobin Hill Association, says residents are having a difficult time, too.

He says neighbors have to deal with violence, lewd behavior and trash outside their homes.

"Fights, defecation, sex acts all in the front yards...most importantly gunshots," said Robalin. "I think folks are looking for a solution. This [pilot] may be a solution or part of a solution, so that's the hope."

There's a meeting Saturday to discuss the pilot in-detail, with District 1 city leaders present to answer any questions.

Feedback is encouraged.

"We want the businesses to be successful. We want the residents to have peace. We think those two things can coexist. It's gonna be difficult and there's gonna have to be some give and take on both ends," said Robalin. "Change is going to be difficult for residents as well as the businesses. Yes, I do feel for them."

Saturday's meeting is at 10 a.m. at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church on N. St. Mary's. Residents and business owners are encouraged to give their opinion before city council votes on the proposed pilot program next Thursday.

If approved, the parking permits will go into effect within 30 days and will be supplied to residents free of charge.

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