Waiting to Worship, Without Parking Meters

The cantor at the SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Jackson Heights, Queens, hurried out during the Divine Liturgy yesterday morning, past parishioners worshiping in the nave, and rushed to his car parked at 72nd Street and Broadway.

Then he thumbed a few quarters into a parking meter.

"He's the singer," said Katherine Chresomales, the church president, who shook her head as she watched the cantor, Nicholas Zois, hurry back in to rejoin the service. "He's not supposed to stop singing."

A bill passed last week by the City Council could mean that Mr. Zois will no longer have to make his weekly dash to feed the meter.

The Council voted to eliminate metered parking on Sundays, a move welcomed by many parishioners at churches like Mr. Zois', located amid a forest of parking meters. The Sunday service, said Ms. Chresomales, typically lasts two and a half hours. The meters have two-hour limits.

But merchants just a few blocks away called the Council's action a mistake, and complained of a phenomenon that coffee shop owners know only too well: the freeloader who commandeers a free parking space all day.

When parking spaces do not turn over, the merchants said, paying customers head elsewhere.

While there was no shortage of spaces near the church yesterday, that did not dampen the opposition to the Sunday meters.

"There should be at least one day of break," said Stavros Kivotidis, 37, an electrician. He and his wife, Helen, had taken their son, Dimitris, to the church for his 40-day blessing. And, armed with two cameras, and a proud smile, Mr. Kivotidis had already been forced to leave the church once to feed the meter, having arrived with too little change in his pockets.

"They have billions of dollars," said Garifalia Christea, referring to the city. "They don't have to collect on Sunday as well."

Although the Bloomberg administration criticized the Council's decision, it has acknowledged that the bill passed with enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto.

The sponsors of the bill have said that the Sunday meters raise about $12 million in annual revenues. But city officials said that although that is a relatively small amount, they provide other benefits, mostly for the businesses along the city's commercial strips.

"This area is so congested," said Shiv Dass, the president of the Jackson Heights Merchants' Association, and the owner of one of the area's 30 or so stores that sell saris. Mr. Dass said that the people who shop on 74th Street - a South Asian commercial enclave that includes sari stores, jewelers, grocers and music shops - come from all over the East Coast.

"If the Sunday parking is gone, then on Saturday night, local merchants and residents will come park here and stay the next day," he said. "What's left for the customers?"

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has spoken with the merchant's association about the possibility of building a garage to ease the parking crunch, Mr. Dass said. But the problem, the mayor said, was finding the space for one in such a crowded neighborhood.

On 74th Street, a few parking meters down from Mr. Dass's store, William Sing pulled his minivan filled with family members out of a parking space in front of Patel Brothers supermarket. Cars typically circle the blocks several times before finding a place to park, said Mr. Sing. Then he drove off, freeing up a metered space.

It was gone in seconds.