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Parking tix on Austin St. necessary evil: Mayor

The admission, however, did not stop the audience of mostly business types from suggesting areas where he could keep trying.Protecting small shops from giant retailers, employees from steepening insurance costs and customers from overly strict parking regulations seemed to weigh heaviest on their minds during the June 8 meeting at the Heskel building on Austin Street.Area property owner Joel Mandel expressed disapproval over what he saw as unfair tax breaks for larger businesses like the nearby Queens Center in Elmhurst. Another store owner questioned rising commercial property values in the area."I don't know what's going to happen to real estate prices," Bloomberg said. "But it's a measure of people's expectations of the future. So I hope they go up."To the complaint about employee heath insurance premiums being unaffordable, the mayor sympathized with the workers' dilemma, saying there was "no easy solution," but added that he would veto any bill forcing small businesses to cover their employees."We're a profitable company, we can afford it," he said, referring to his own Bloomberg LP. "Not all businesses can."Another issue that has irked shop and restaurant owners for years is how to regulate parking, primarily along the heavily commercialized Austin Street, since a lack of parking spaces and strict meter enforcement discourage customers from shopping there, thus hurting business, the retailers say. Peter Benedetto, owner of Family Restaurant, wondered at the meeting why parking fines had to be so steep."A poor guy walks in to get a pizza and by the time he walks out he has $105 ticket," he said.Sarabella owner Danny Sollenne wanted to do away with Sunday meters, which has prompted complaints and repeals from retailers, church-goers and elected officials.The mayor said the meters and tickets were necessary to give the city more money so taxes would not increase, deter drivers from illegal parking and preserve a steady turnover, which he said shop owners should appreciate since it opens up spaces to park.As for Sunday meters, Bloomberg said he has allowed free parking windows during church hours.Overall, the mayor, who faces three primary Democratic challengers for his job in September, gave his usual optimistic bill of health for the city he governs.With the population at a record high of 9 million, he said, the bottom line is that "more people think it is worth it living here."Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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