Downtown Parking Examined at Traffic Meeting

Though no action was taken Wednesday at the City of Warsaw Traffic Safety Commission meeting, a lengthy discussion was had on downtown residential parking.
Commission Administrator and Warsaw Police Dept. Lt. Kip Shuter said the board needs to start thinking about what can be done about parking in the “central downtown district” for the approximately two dozen residents who live there.
City Councilwoman and Commission member Cindy Dobbins said she was working on information about how many cars there are for each downtown resident.
A map provided to the Commission shows where the on-street two-hour and free no-limit parking is, as well as where the off-street parking is located. Off-street includes City of Warsaw permit only, two-hour limit, free no-limit and private employee parking.
“Back when we did our parking study in 2012 … initial thoughts were to possibly put eight or so spots in the city parking lot off Buffalo Street and then a half dozen or so spots in the city-owned lot somewhere north. Neither one of those have actually came to fruition at this point,” Shuter said. “But we continue to hear from downtown residents that ‘there’s no place for us to park,’ ‘we have to walk long distances’ to get to their apartments, they’re paying for those apartments and they’d like to have a (parking) space closer to their homes to be able to park.”
He opened the discussion to the Commission members on ways to help the downtown residents have a place to park.
“I just want to add to that, Kip, since 2012 there’s been a desire on behalf of the city to make sure the downtown parking was friendly to patrons, to merchants and to our residents downtown,” Mayor Joe Thallemer said. “Typified by the amount of work that we did, it took awhile to come up with something that we think is working as good as it can. It’s never perfect, but as you can see from the map, we’ve left pretty much the central core (as two-hour parking) and we opened up a lot of the (two-hour parking) to (free no-limit parking), somewhat intended for the employees.”
He said the city has opened up more spaces in the South Buffalo Street lot and added another 30 spaces of unlimited parking.
“But, originally, we had some spots for residential in that South Buffalo Street lot, but there typically wasn’t a big demand at the time, and I think it was more because they’re so far away from the downtown residences that they really haven’t been utilized,” Thallemer continued.
He said he recently spoke with a business owner downtown who wants to improve their upstairs for residential purposes.
“This all fits in with what we’re trying to do downtown as far as making downtown a walkable, livable, central city. With our North Buffalo Street project, and the somewhat urbanized housing we’ll have down there, we have planned for a good amount of parking down there,” he said.
A residence downtown without parking can be a deterrent to some, Thallemer pointed out.
“I want our downtown parking to be as friendly to our residents as it is for everyone. To that end, with the number that Cindy’s given us, I think it’s doable to do some type of program … to potentially be able to park downtown in the two-hour slots with some type of residential sticker or tag that gives them that opportunity. I don’t think it would be overburdensome to the two-hour parking. I think it would be fairly easy to maintain a list of downtown residents to apply for that privilege,” Thallemer said.
Dobbins said for the few residents she polled so far, some only have one car, but others have two, but would be grateful if they had a parking space for at least one of their vehicles.
City Planner Jeremy Skinner said even if there was a nominal fee attached to downtown residential parking, that might keep everyone honest about it. Dobbins said she pays $30 a month now for a downtown parking spot, which she thought was “pretty cheap” to know that she has a spot.
“I don’t see that as a problem. It could be a good thing,” she said.
Thallemer said if they make a decision and there is an issue, they could always come back and revisit it.
Skinner said at any given time there are over 100 parking spaces available downtown. There’s still a perception that there aren’t any parking spaces, “but there are.”
“I think most of the residents work during the day so they’re not necessarily there, but if they have a sick day or vacation day, then they’re having to move their car every few hours,” Dobbins said.
Street Superintendent Jeff Beeler said there is that parking need for residents, but during winter there is his concern about snow removal on the streets. One car on one spot takes out three spots for snow removal because the snow plow driver doesn’t want to hit the vehicle.
City Engineer James Emans said the residential parking area downtown could be within a specific zone so they’re not “all over the place.”
Skinner said anyone can park anywhere downtown after 5 p.m. weekdays. Dobbins said the residences are scattered.
Thallemer said those residents do park on the street at night now, so snow plowing shouldn’t “be a deterrent to doing this.” He stressed that parking always will be an issue, but it’s all part of the puzzle the city will continue to address.
“In two years we’ll probably be back looking at it, and we probably should,” Thallemer said.
Downtown residential parking permits would be like an incentive, Skinner said, that could come with some restrictions. There are some issues that need to be worked out, he said.
Landlords and building owners may need to register them as a way to determine who gets the permits and how many, Thallemer suggested. Tag numbers could be tied to residences.
He said maybe they could start working on a draft of an ordinance based on all of the Commission’s thoughts and ideas on the issue, and then discuss it some more at future meetings.
Shuter said they will bring it back for discussion at a later date. Thallemer suggested, “We could possibly start something and then send it out.”
“We could actually start a draft of something and make changes to it,” Shuter agreed.

(Story By The Times Union)