New and stricter valet regulations have become law, and the city is now in the implementation phase.
Valet services must park cars in designated off-street facilities; parking customers’ cars on the street is prohibited. Furthermore, valets must furnish the city with, and adhere to, pre-planned routes from valet stands to the designated parking facilities.
Implementation of the new regulations will begin downtown, followed by Fell’s Point, Harbor East and Little Italy, in that order.
Perhaps nowhere in Southeast Baltimore is valet parking more contentious than Little Italy. With its high density of restaurants and limited street parking, the neighborhood has seen friction between residents and restaurants.
“We’ve been spearheading this bill for seven years,” said Gia Blatterman, president of the Little Italy Community Organization and owner of Cafe Gia, which does not have a valet service.
“I am happy,” said Blatterman. “As a resident I’m elated; as a business owner, I’m elated too.”
She said that some valet services have been parking customers’ cars on the street.
“That hurts the businesses that don’t have valet, because where are their customers going to park?” Blatterman said.
“It’s pretty much been the Wild West on the streets of Little Italy for many years with some restaurants,” said Little Italy Property Owners Association President Mel Stachura, adding that despite the offenders, many of the neighborhoods restaurants do in fact conduct their valet operations reasonably.
One of the main provisions of the law is that valet operators will now have to apply to the city for licenses, which must be renewed on an annual basis.
“We do believe they should be licensed,” said Lou Mazzulli, president of the Little Italy Business Association.
Mazzulli said that he has witnessed valets driving at a high rate of speed in the neighborhood and parking customers’ cars on the street.
“We have guests and clients who can’t come into the neighborhood because they can’t find parking,” he said.
Maria Vaccaro, president of the Little Italy Restaurant Association, said that she was aware of the new law but unfamiliar with the details, and so declined to comment. Her establishment, Vaccaro’s Italian Pastries, does not offer valet parking.
In a previous interview with the guide, Vincent Culotta, one of the owners of Sabatino’s, said that his restaurant’s valet service already takes customers’ cars to an off-street location. He noted that he would have to “face” his neighbors and friends if the cars were parked on the street.
The valet laws have several fees attached to the application process. A potential operator must pay $50 to apply for a license, and then $250 annually to have that license. To apply for a “valet zone,” or curb area dedicated to valet parking (and restricting other parking), the fee is $500.
The valet zone costs an additional $1200 annually for every 20 linear feet of curb space.
In order to get a license, a valet operator must hold liability insurance that covers himself and his employees, the city, and any restaurant for whom he will valet.
The law allows the public some influence in granting or rejecting a proposed valet zone. Valet zones, often called “passenger loading zones” on signage, typically prohibit the public from parking in them during the hours the valet service is in operation.
An applicant for a valet parking plan must post his intentions on the property that would offer valet parking. If there are nine or fewer written objections during the required 15 days of posting, then the city may grant or deny the valet zone at its discretion. Ten or more written objections—from within the proposed zone’s election precinct—result in a public hearing.
Stachura acknowledged that the fees associated with setting up a valet zone are not inconsequential. He said that the high cost may lead to a lower overall number of valet zones.
“We’re hopeful that the restaurants will band together and say, ‘Let’s dedicate this corner to this group of restaurants,’” he said.
He added that while his association agrees with the new laws in principle, “the key will be uniform and fair enforcement of the rules.”
by Erik Zygmont