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updated: 2/12/2013 9:19 PM

Aurora to implement free parking, remove meters downtown

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Parking in downtown Aurora will be meter-free later this year under a new parking plan the city council approved Tuesday night.

The plan does away with the meters that have regulated parking in the central business district for decades and implements a color-coded system that allows free parking for 90 minutes or two, three, six or 10 hours.

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The new plan was developed during more than a year of meetings with downtown merchants and is meant to create frequent turnover near shops and restaurants to improve the business climate.

"This is a positive thing for the downtown image," said Kim Granholm, owner of Aurora Fastprint and chairwoman of the Aurora Downtown organization's parking committee.

Aldermen on Tuesday night authorized the purchase of a $133,091 license plate recognition system to help enforce parking time limits once meters are removed. The system includes five hand-held scanners equipped with printers to generate tickets when vehicles have remained in one space longer than allowed.

Meter removal and installation of signs informing drivers of new parking zones will take time, but Bill Wiet, Aurora's development director, said the process should be complete sometime in the second half of the year.

"Once it's all laid out, I think people will be very appreciative of the opportunity to find a convenient parking place for the time they need," Alderman-at-Large Bob O'Connor said.

City staff members will continue to seek reactions from business owners and downtown shoppers once enforcement of the new parking zones begins.

"This parking program is meant to be monitored, is meant to be evaluated, and we're going to be constantly doing this," Wiet said.

Removal of parking meters passed unanimously, but Alderman Rick Lawrence opposed the purchase of the license plate recognition system.

"It's a crazy idea to run around and scan everyone's license plates -- that's the wrong direction to go in," Lawrence said. "I just think it's kind of a big brother-type thing."

Wiet said enforcement is meant to ensure vehicles do not stay in one spot too long and block easy access to restaurants and businesses.

The fine for a parking ticket will increase between $5 and $60, depending on the number of tickets received, and monthly permit rates will rise between $1 and $10 depending on the type of permit.

Wiet said those changes are meant to offset the loss of money generated by parking meters.

"This is not some effort to create revenue," Mayor Tom Weisner said. "This is an effort to create a healthy downtown ... where turnover happens, where people are able to conduct their business without having to pay a meter up front."

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