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In last week's City Commission meeting, Mayor Bradley opened the hearing on downtown parking expansion by noting that three Commissioners had requested a review of City parking policy.
It appears that those three Commissioners were the same three – Cooper, McMacken and Sprinkel – who, at the end of the two-hour hearing, voted against the “pave the meadow” approach favored by Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Leary.
At the top of the hearing, Public Works Director, Troy Attaway stepped forward to explain how the parking expansion plan his department was implementing was put on hold due to “resistance” from citizens who were unhappy with the City’s plans (1:30 / Video, Part 1 -- Also see Video, Part 2 below).
Mayor Responds to Citizen Input: I Don't Want City Run by "Email . . . Innuendo or Accusation"
Early on, Mayor Bradley interrupted Mr. Attaway’s presentation in an apparent effort to make a point about halting demolition/construction plans in response to citizen complaints:
“I want to be clear on the process that we go through – since the City Commission instructed the staff to do all of this . . . what you’re doing [ halting construction ] is probably appropriate and proper . . . I’m just saying I don’t want to be run by a city of email or a city of innuendo or accusation because somebody doesn’t like something that’s happened” (1:40 / Video, Part 1).
Mr. Attaway continued with his presentation, describing plans to add 36 parking spaces (total) to both sides of Morse Blvd. between Virginia and New York, effectively reducing that segment of Morse to a two-lane road. Attaway also spoke of modifying New York Avenue to gain 5 additional spaces. Also mentioned was a prior attempt by the City to add spaces to Morse Blvd. during the building of the Park Place parking garage. That attempt was abandoned for several reasons, including citizen opposition. (8:00 / Video, Part 1).
In the follow-up to staff explanation of current parking expansion plans, a number of Commissioners, including Mr. Leary and Ms. Sprinkel, expressed opposition to narrowing Morse Blvd., citing concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic flow. Others, including Mayor Bradley, pointed out that pedestrian safety can be enhanced by a parking lane providing a buffer between pedestrians and moving automobiles.
Cooper: "We Have Lots of Angry Residents." Bradley: "We Have Several Angry Residents."
Commissioner Cooper noted that the intensity of public opposition to the City’s plan may have been due to the Commission’s failure to use a Commission hearing to publicly discuss the plan (instead of the Sept. 6 Strategic Planning Workshop where the plan was last discussed – a workshop that was attended by few city residents). (19:30 / Video, Part 1).
Ms. Cooper’s characterization of the strong opposition to the parking plan – illustrated by citizen outrage she encountered the weekend before Monday’s Commission meeting – was disputed by Mayor Bradley, who appeared to minimize the scope and importance of the opposition.
Cooper: “We have lots of angry residents . . . Bradley: “We have several angry residents . . . Cooper: “I had people at my house as well as many emails . . . From my personal perspective, until we have at least implemented the recommendations that came from the [ Parking Study ] consultant – which were to move employee parking – [ for us ] to start intruding into our parkland, or creating a bottleneck . . . or disturbing the beauty of a main blvd. unnecessarily – would probably be premature.”
The debate about the intensity and legitimacy of public response to the City’s parking plan quickly morphed into an intense debate questioning the legitimacy of claims and counterclaims made by the Commissioners themselves and the City’s own parking study.
Ms. Cooper and the others on the dais continued their discussion of alternatives including public parking on the site of the soon-to-be-demolished Public Works building, as well as nearby City properties including the Blake storage yard and the Swoope Ave. water plant parking area that is already paved.
Bradley & Leary Stand Alone in Support of West Meadow Parking.
Mayor Bradley introduced motions and amendments seeking to approve additional parking spaces on the Public Works site, New York Avenue and the West Meadow (including an additional “perpetual” no-parking buffer zone). Commissioner Leary seconded the motion. (21:30 / Video, Part 1).
However, in the face of continuing Commission opposition to Meadow parking, Bradley pivoted and offered an amendment denying any parking at all on the West Meadow, which would include elimination of the traditional use of the Meadow for temporary parking over 5 to 10 days for the City’s art festivals. (24:30 / Video, Part 1).
Bradley: "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is, Folks – Either It's a Parking Lot or It's a Meadow."
This last amendment – seeking to deny any parking on the meadow if the Commission failed to approve Bradley’s bid to pave parking spaces in the meadow – was based on Mr. Bradley’s assertion that since the City currently allows parking/use of the meadow for “6 months out of the year” it should be willing to permanently pave the meadow. Sarah Sprinkel seconded the amendment as Bradley proclaimed, “Put your money where your mouth is, folks – either it’s a parking lot or it’s a meadow.” (25:00 / Video, Part 1).
The Mayor’s rationale drew a rebuke from Commissioner McMacken, who called Bradley’s argument “misleading.” McMacken claimed that parking on the meadow totaled no more than 6 days per year.
Immediately following the Bradley/McMacken exchange, Commissioner Cooper shifted the discussion from meadow parking to the City’s Parking Study that is used to justify the creation of more downtown parking. She questioned the methods used to determine the current supply of parking spaces and the current demand for spaces, remarking that “The devil’s in the details.”
Cooper Disputes City Parking Study: Why Did They Remove 141 "Honest-to-Goodness Parking Spaces from Their Count?"
According to Cooper, “If you look at this Parking Study, the parking supply that they talk about us having is not the actual number of parking spaces. The first thing they did was remove 141 of real honest-to-goodness parking spaces from their count so they could talk about “effective parking” [ which enabled them to ] . . . reduce the count of the real parking spaces by up to 15%.”
Ms. Cooper asserted that “. . . the study reduced the real supply, then on the other hand the study increased the real demand” by looking at parking demand on the weekend during the Farmers’ Market in December – “at the busiest time of the year.” (29:40 / Video, Part 1).
Sprinkel: "I Don't Think We Should Ever, Ever Go Over Any Green Space."
Mayor Bradley countered that 80 spaces taken away from the City’s parking supply when the West Meadow was converted from a parking lot to green space a few years ago, have never been “addressed” by the current or past Commissions. “I’m for parks as much as the next guy, but . . . the heart of our city requires convenient and accessible parking.” (32:45 / Video, Part 1).
“I don’t think we should ever, ever go over any green space” said Commissioner Sprinkel, rebutting the Mayor. “. . . I don’t know that we’ll ever make everybody happy, but I do understand that if we’ve got some green space, I don’t really want to go on top of it with pavement.” (35:20 / Video, Part 1).
Leary: "I Don't Have a Problem" with Proposed Meadow Parking.
Cooper: "This is Crazy – to Jeopardize Our Parks and Our Boulevards . . ."
After much discussion among the Commissioners, Mr. Leary appeared to vacillate in his support for paving part of the meadow, but reasserted his support after confirming with Troy Attaway how much space would be taken out of the north end of the meadow: “I don’t want to take over the entire West Meadow with parking, obviously, [ but ] this I don’t have a problem with . . .” (38:20 / Video, Part 1).
Commissioner Cooper responded strongly to the underlying assumption of the Mayor and others that merchant-requested parking could only be attained by paving the meadow and narrowing city avenues. Cooper pointed out that the “[ Parking ] Study says City employees and Park Ave. employees should be able to park 10 minutes from their workplace. There’s no place that we’re even talking about that’s more than 5 minutes. This is crazy – to jeopardize our parks and our boulevards because employees believe they are entitled to park outside their doors.” (41:00 / Video, Part 1).
Ms. Cooper noted that other employers (like Florida Hospital) use buses to transport employees to and from parking lots. “We own buses – we own golf carts . . . There’s no reason we can’t free up some of these parking places . . . the Park Avenue merchants are never going to voluntarily do it if they don’t see the City employees stepping up and doing their part.”
In the second half of the hearing, City residents stepped to the podium to offer comments on the City’s Parking Plan.
Public comments were roughly split between support and opposition to the plan. Various residents and merchants, including Vicki Krueger, Dan Bellows, Patrick Chapin, Ken Murrah and Forest Michael expressed a range of views regarding the issue.
Part 2 of the Voice video shows all public commenters, the remainder of the hearing and the final Commission vote.
Public Comment: Park Ave. Merchant Says We Can't Tell Our Employees Not to Park in Best Spaces.
Brian Wettstein, co-owner of the Doggie Door on Park Avenue, was the evening’s first commenter. Mr. Wettstein responded to Commissioner Cooper’s assertion that merchant employees should park farther from the Avenue by claiming that merchants don’t have the legal right to keep employees from parking in nearby, publicly-available parking spaces (00:30 / Video, Part 2).
Mr. Wettstein was followed by Vicki Krueger, who presented the history of the West Meadow starting with its transition to green space in 2008. Ms. Krueger referenced City memos and other information from that period demonstrating the City’s intent to create park space – and the compromise made at that time to put 12 parking spaces on the West Meadow. According to Ms. Krueger, the spaces were intended to be temporary: “The Compromise was to put 12 temporary parking spaces on the West Meadow. ‘Temporary’ apparently was not defined, because now it’s 2013 and they’re still there.”
When Ms. Krueger’s 3 minutes of speaking time expired, she and the Mayor disagreed over whether Ms. Krueger should be allowed to speak longer. Ms. Krueger asked for more time after showing a handful of yellow "Speaking Requests" given to her by other citizens who had granted their time to Krueger. The Mayor agreed to give her an additional 15 minutes, but only if no one else in the chamber would speak in opposition to meadow parking. Ms. Krueger declined the Mayor’s offer and spoke for an additional minute during which she began a presentation of her own parking study that showed numerous empty parking spaces available during peak times of the day. (02:40 / Video, Part 2).
Citizens Challenge Mayor Amidst Gavel Banging & Chamber Theatrics.
As Ms. Krueger left the podium, others in the audience challenged the Mayor’s limitation of her speaking time. The challenge to the Mayor was answered by Chamber President, Patrick Chapin who sprang to his feet and rushed out the chamber door dramatically proclaiming that he would return with “twenty or thirty” signed speaking forms that would enable him to request additional speaking time, too. (8:00 / Video, Part 2).
A short while later, Mr. Chapin returned to the Commission Chamber and spoke for 3 minutes. He did not offer any additional signed speaking forms. Chapin urged the Commission to accept the Parking Study at face value, saying “If we’re really going to question the validity of that Parking Study tonight, let’s just all go home . . . Can we at least pretend that that study is legitimate? It should be – it’s done by professionals .”
Chamber President Chapin: Merchants "Passionate." We Need 280 More Parking Spaces.
Chapin alleged a “deficit of 280 parking spots” and implied that the merchants he represents are still upset about parking that was lost when the West Meadow was originally converted to parkland. “Believe me – I’m holding a group of merchants at bay, because they’re passionate about their 80 [ West Meadow ] spots that were taken away . . .” (20:40 / Video, Part 2).
Forest Michael, an urban planner who participated in planning the West Meadow green space, spoke to the Commission and rebutted the view of Mr. Chapin and others who believe that turning the meadow to parkland resulted in the “loss” of downtown parking spaces.
Michael reminded the Commission that the City and associated planners all worked together to “relocate” the parking spaces from the meadow to the Park Place garage next to Panera. (29:45 / Video, Part 2).
After the City residents had their say, the Commission restarted their discussion of creating parking permanently and/or temporarily at various City properties located close to the downtown shopping district. Those properties include “Blake Yard” on Blake St. near City Hall, the Swoope Ave. Water Plant parking area and the Progress Point site on Orange Ave.
McMacken: Let's Take a "Systematic" Look at Additional Parking Options in Future Hearings.
Ultimately, the Commission was unwilling to entertain any options beyond the originally discussed alternatives on New York Ave., Morse Ave., Public Works parking and the West Meadow. Commissioner McMacken summed it up by pointing out that entertaining so many ideas in a manner that was not “systematic” is “how [ we ] wind up in the mess we’re in . . .” McMacken asked the Commission to vote only on the original motion and amendments and to bring back the other alternatives for discussion and possible vote at a future hearing. (44:15 / Video, Part 2).
Mayor Bradley closed out the discussion by asserting that the City does, in fact, have a parking problem. Mr. Bradley indicated that he was open to many of the parking suggestions made by the Commissioners and twice mentioned the option of building a parking garage. Immediately following the Mayor’s comments the Commission voted on the original motion and amendments. (50:45 / Video, Part 2).
First Amendment: Eliminate plan to build 12 parking spots in the West Meadow.
Commissioners Cooper, Sprinkel & McMacken voted “Yes.”
Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Leary voted “No.”
Second Amendment: Eliminate all parking at all times in the West Meadow [ would eliminate current practice of parking in meadow during art festivals and special events. ]
Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Sprinkel voted “Yes.”
Commissioners Cooper, Leary & McMacken voted “No.”
Motion: Approve Parking Plan to create additional parking in and around Public Works (after building is demolished) and on New York Avenue -- but not on Morse Blvd. or in the West Meadow. Motion also includes a ”buffer” in West Meadow where no parking is allowed.
(Approximate size of buffer is same as area that was originally planned for new parking spaces.)
Motion Passed Unanimously.