RICHMOND, Va. -- At the Camel, a quaint restaurant and bar on Lombardy and Broad Streets, General Manager Aaron Pierce says small business owners are enjoying a resurgence and a thriving new Broad Street with trendy restaurants and shops.
But Pierce fears their popularity will plummet if three miles of parking spaces along Broad Street simply vanish because of a $25 million federally funded bus transit project.
"Public transit is important, but it shouldn't be at the detriment of local businesses," Pierce said.
By the fall of 2017, GRTC's Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, will be complete. The project will offer a seven- mile, state of the art bus route with 14 stations from Willow Lawn to Rockett's Landing.
The point of contention, however, is the part where developers want to eliminate street parking along Broad Street -- from Thompson Street to 14th Street -- to allow buses to travel in the median lanes.
At a meeting Monday night, hosted by the Fan District Association, tempers flared as residents and business owners voiced their concerns to two GRTC representatives. Just over 50 people were in attendance, but only two people spoke in support of the plan.
Concerns centered around limited parking garages, overcrowded side streets taken up by Virginia Commonwealth University students and residents, and expensive pay lots that cost anywhere from $150 to $300 for permits.
Business owners say they fear they’ll lose customers, especially county residents who won’t bother coming downtown if they can’t find a place to park.
Residents worry parking in front of their homes will be a daily challenge.
GRTC Representative Stephen McNally says while more than 700 parking spaces will be eliminated, the transit company argues that number accounts for less than ten percent of all available parking in the area. McNally also says that design plans aren't final, and as many as 100 spaces could be saved in the final plan.
Several people left the meeting upset, threatening to take their concerns to City Council members in the coming weeks.
McNally says while funding for the project is complete, the plan must now go before the Richmond City Council and the Henrico County Board of Supervisors.