The owner of Sam's Delicatessen in Alexandria said it's easier to get indigestion from trying to park in Old Town than from eating a yard-long salami sub.
"Customers complain. Employes complain. Just about everybody who comes to Old Town complains about parking," said Sam Misleh, one of the many small-business owners who attended a City Council meeting Tuesday night.
After a listening to residents complain that they cannot park near their homes, the council voted to increase downtown metered parking from 50 cents an hour to 75 cents and to expand restrictions on nonresidential parking until 9 p.m.
Misleh, along with many merchants and restaurateurs, was upset that the chronic shortage of parking and rising parking rates deter customers. The new rates and restrictions could do even more damage, he said after the vote.
Jean Thompson, the chairwoman of the Old Town Business Association, said some small businesses, particularly the specialty shops, are leaving the downtown area because of the problem. Worse still, she said, in some places, "We can't get new ones to come in."
The new meter rates will go into effect July 1 in the area east of Henry Street, and the two- and three-hour limitations for nonresidents will be enforced Monday through Saturday in the area bounded by Queen, Washington and Duke streets and the Potomac River.
Police Chief Charles T. Strobel said parking enforcers may use a fluorescent chalk to mark cars without residential parking stickers. Small-business owners wondered aloud how visitors, unaccustomed to restricted parking or feeding meters in the evening, would react to a late-night ticket.
"Who looks at a meter in the dark?" Misleh said. "Once they get a $10 or $20 ticket they aren't going to want to come back."
A special task force is evaluating ways to ease the parking crunch, including building a garage. Council member Patricia S. Ticer said the garage could be financed by a fee on new businesses or businesses that expand. One proposal discussed would require businesses to provide adequate parking for customers, or pay $5,000 for each parking space for their customers.
In other action, the council voted in an executive session early yesterday morning to pay the $45,000 legal fees Chief Strobel incurred fighting federal perjury and obstruction of justice charges. Strobel was acquitted last month. The council members said that because the charges arose from his city job they were obligated to pay them.
The council also cleared the way for the construction of 30 new public housing town houses in Cameron Valley to replace condemned single-family houses for the poor.
Scores of neighbors pleaded with council members to reject the rezoning needed for the new houses, which they said would devalue their property. The $2.5 million federally financed project at Duke Street and Yale Drive is about half a mile from the house where former president Gerald Ford used to live, a national landmark on Crown View Drive.
Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said the city had little choice but to approve the rezoning because it is committed to maintaining a minimum of 1,150 public housing units.
Council member Lionel Hope said he was disappointed that so many neighbors saw the rezoning as a chance to rid their neighborhood of a low-income project that dates to World War II. "It's inconceivable that you are putting up this fight," Hope said to the neighbors. "I could understand it if it were a new project, but it's just replacement housing . We're talking about people who need a home, a decent place to live."