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8/29/03 - Miami Herald

Merchants get parking break after the DOT makes U-turn

By Carolyn Salazar

The Florida Department of Transportation has decided that businesses along the Northwest Seventh Avenue corridor in Liberty City will get a break from the strict parking rules merchants said were killing their businesses.

Rory J. Santana, DOT district traffic operations engineer, said on-street parking on Seventh Avenue, from Southwest Eighth to Northwest 79th streets, will return to its old rules. The looser rules restrict on-street parking only during peak hours, when drivers are allowed to park on one side of the street.

DOT officials said they were willing to compromise after hearing merchants' concerns.

''That's very good news,'' said Eion Hunte, who owns International Rainbow Produce at 4338 NW Seventh Ave., which saw its revenue fall 70 percent since June, when police began to enforce the more stringent rules. ``I feel so great. I can't believe it.''

The DOT's announcement comes two weeks after U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, stepped in to attempt to broker a compromise between the department and the merchants. Meek, who is spearheading redevelopment efforts on Seventh Avenue, organized several meetings between the DOT, merchants and Miami police, who enforce the area's parking rules.

There are no designated on-street parking spots on the avenue, but the DOT and Miami police had been allowing drivers to park in the right lane for years.

The DOT began prohibiting on-street parking on the avenue because it wanted to start using Seventh Avenue as a diversion route for Interstate 95, which is a block away. Santana said there already were too many traffic crashes on the avenue, and continuing to allow on-street parking would exasperate the problems.

But merchants argued the strict rules were forcing them out of business because it left their customers with few -- if any -- places to park.

In a meeting Thursday, the DOT not only said it would ease the parking restrictions but also agreed to become part of the redevelopment efforts on Northwest Seventh Avenue, slated to be converted into a transportation hub in the next two years.

Elaine Black, who heads an economic development firm on Seventh Avenue, said she was reserving judgment on the announcement until she sees an agreement in writing. But she added that she feels confident the businesses will get the relief they were seeking.