Downtown Conroe proposes parking meters

HOUSTON It's a big parking meter debate. The city is looking to put in parking meters, but business owners say that would be terrible during a time when they are already struggling.

Montgomery County and Conroe have seen such growth that street parking nearest businesses here at the height of the day is hard to come by.

The city is looking for ways to fix that and one solution of adding meters has business owners baffled.

For fifty years, Bob Shepard has cut hair at this barber shop in downtown Conroe.

"I'm very concerned," said Shepard.

In that time, he said he's never been more concerned about the city's actions cutting into his bottom line.

"I don't understand them wanting to do something that would affect people coming downtown. That's my issue," said Shepard.

The city of Conroe is studying whether it would be beneficial to put parking meters downtown.

"All that's going to do is scare them away," said barber Leon Apostolo.

Shepard and employees are so opposed that they've started a petition drive. They said they've gathered nearly 500 signatures in the last few weeks from residents and other downtown businesses, who are all in opposition to meters.

Customer Raymond Baylor signed the petition.

"I just don't understand it," said Baylor.

Baylor said he'd still come here to get his hair cut just because he's done so since he was three, but he also says installation of meters would force him to do other business elsewhere where parking is free.

"We're just beginning to look at this. We're trying to help everybody downtown," said Paul Virgadamo, Conroe Asst. City Administrator.

Virgadamo said parking is at a premium most days. There is a two hour limit, but he says some city and county employees still park on the street while at work all day.

Virgadamo thinks meters might actually cut down that practice and make it easier for customers to access businesses here like the barber shop.

"If we have people that are parking for extended periods of time in front of somebody's business, then that doesn't allow a customer to come and frequent their business," said Virgadamo.

There is a new parking structure opening here near city hall which officials hope will help.

Discussions about meters are in very preliminary stages. In fact, there's been no formal discussion yet about how many meters to put in or how much parking would cost. Any decision is months away, but you can bet plenty will be discussed at public hearings prior to that.

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