No free lunch: Paid parking comes to Belmont

New signage sprang up in two private Belmont lots directing parkers to pay using a mobile app or risk getting towed. Staff photo New signage sprang up in two private Belmont lots directing parkers to pay using a mobile app or risk getting towed. Staff photo

When the ParkMobile signs went up June 15, the paid parking designation caught Belmonters by surprise. Parking can be a challenge in the neighborhood, and customers at two new restaurants, Belle Coffee & Wine and No Limits Smokehouse, had been using the adjacent lots for free. Now, they’ll have to pay.

Belle Coffee & Wine is in the building that formerly housed La Taza, which was purchased by real estate investor Murry Pitts’ MELCP LLC September 24 for $3.65 million. The sale included property across the street that used to house Belmont BBQ, and both sites have lots that now warn parkers to pay with the mobile app or risk getting towed.

No Limits Smokehouse occupies the former Belmont BBQ space, and its owner, who declined to provide his name, says, “People are pissed.” He says he’s watched people pull into the lot beside his restaurant, look at the signs, and leave.

He was aware the landlord was going to put in paid parking when he signed the lease two months ago, he says, but he didn’t realize it would happen this soon.

Thirty percent of No Limits’ business is takeout, he says, and Friday and Saturday nights have been “super busy.”

Across the street, Belle Coffee & Wine has been open fewer than two months, and some customers have been “very upset,” says manager Bailey Laing. “We do get a lot of people asking about it.”

Not everyone is bothered by the paid parking. A woman sitting outside Belle says it was her second time there and paying to park didn’t keep her from coming.

“I never mind paying for parking,” says her friend “It’s not as big a deal as people make it.”

Restaurateur Andy McClure owns Belle, along with the Virginian and Citizen Burger, and he sees the paid parking as a plus. “I think it’s good for all of Belmont. There’s nowhere to park.”

People pay to park on the Corner and downtown, he points out. The Belmont lots are private, and now anyone can park there. “People weren’t allowed to park there before,” he says. “I think everyone wants more parking.”

Resident Kimber Hawkey was “astounded” to see the newly installed parking signs, and she does not believe the paid lots will ease the neighborhood’s parking crunch.

‘Why would it help?” she asks. “Why would someone choose to pay when they can go down the street and take a free space in front of someone’s house? That makes no sense.”

Matt Shields, who has lived in Belmont for 20 years, was having a brisket sandwich at No Limits. He says he stopped for coffee at Belle’s last week. “I didn’t pay because I thought it was crazy. I was only going to be in there a minute.”

He acknowledges that parking in Belmont can get “bonkers,” and can see the paid parking hurting both new restaurants, particularly for customers making a quick stop who have to pause and download an app or risk getting towed.

Pitts, who also bought the former Gleason feed store property at 126 Garrett Street for $5 million in 2016, did not respond to messages left with his registered agent in Staunton.

However, Ben Wilson with Nest Realty, which manages the properties, says Pitts “is trying to expand the parking rather than have it exclusive to the properties he owns. He wants to create an opportunity to anyone who wants to park.”

Correction June 28: Pitts does not own the Gleason condo building as stated in the original story.

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