What supporters of LOLA describe as a potential community “jewel” and scenic focal point at the very heart of Madison Park, the merchants see as potential threat to their livelihood. For the fact is that the area at the end of Madison Street currently serves principally as a parking lot, and the creation of a park in that space will lower the amount of close-in business district parking.
Mark Long, owner of The Attic and a leading opponent of LOLA, estimates that 25 or more parking spaces will be lost at the road end if a park is constructed at that location. And it’s parking that will not—and really cannot—be replaced anywhere in proximity to the businesses along Madison Street. Eliminating the existing parking will force people to park further away from the businesses they patronize, he says, and will result in some people deciding to forgo making the trip to Madison Park.
“Everyone that lives in the Park enjoys the benefit of a varied retail area with wide sidewalks,” he says. “However, not all realize the costs and time needed to keep the doors open. Parking is a paramount problem.” This is a position that many other area merchants support. Stan Moshier, co-owner of Bing’s, summed up the concern this way in an email to other business owners: “Parking is most necessary to our existence as a viable business, proven by the countless times we have heard ‘it takes forever to find a place to park around here’ from our patrons, both young and old.”
A similar refrain comes from Madison Park Bakery owners Karen and Terry Hofman, who emailed “In our 17 years of operation, not a week has gone by without someone mentioning or complaining about parking difficulties. On occasion, [we’ve] had to telephone some elderly customers who pre-ordered baked goods but didn’t pick up their order. The response has too often been ‘Sorry, drove down but couldn’t find anywhere to park.’”
While Long is adamant that the whole LOLA idea be dropped, other business owners, including the Hofmans, are a bit more circumspect: “We only ask that the issue of parking be seriously addressed before rapidly proceeding only on the wishes of individuals representing LOLA.”
LOLA committee members say they are attempting to address the parking concerns of the merchants. “We can collaborate with the MPBA,” says LOLA’s Kathleen Stearns, “but we are not the decision makers. The Department of Parks and Recreation is.” She notes that the land belongs to the parks department and simply is not designated for use as a parking lot. “Madison Street ends at 43rd Avenue E.,” she notes, and the area beyond 43rd down to the pier is not controlled by the City’s transportation department. Effectively, vehicle drivers who park in the area are encroaching on City parkland, since it is technically not a city street.
Ownership of the property is shown on this graphic (click to enlarge):
For LOLA supporters, the issue therefore appears to be pretty straightforward. The land is park land and should be restored to park use. This is not to say, however, that LOLA is opposed to discussing the issue with concerned business owners or working with them to find creative solutions. Stearns notes that focus groups were held (including one where the parking issue was specifically on the agenda) and the business owners also were invited to meet with the MPCC by its president Ken Myrabo. But in spite of this outreach the business owners opposing the project did not come forward, she says; and as a result, some LOLA committee members sought out various Madison Park business owners to solicit their input.
Among the ideas being floated to improve parking in the business district are these, she says:
1) Encourage more employees of these businesses to use public transportation to get to work.
2) Ask employees (as well as business owners) to park further from their places of business.
3) Limit street parking to 2 hours (versus the 1, 2 and 4-hour designations that currently exist in different parts of the business district) and have it enforced to optimize usage.
4) Ask residents to volunteer spaces in their driveways or in front of their houses for the daytime use of employees (Kathleen Stearns reports she has agreed to do this on her property).
5) Make better use of existing alley parking spaces for employees and owners.
Stearns says she believes that collaboration will solve the parking problem, and she’s dismissive of the merchants who are not interested in working with LOLA on the issue. “Their vision is a parking lot. Our competing vision is for it to be restored to public use as a garden park. These are the competing interests for this public space.” To which she adds, “We are not opposed to bringing commerce to the Park.”
Cactus! owner Bret Chatalas, meanwhile, sent an email to City Council members and the parks department last month in which he expressed his support for parks but added that “I can’t imagine anyone, while thinking it through, would think that more parks in Madison Park is a better idea than providing parking for those already coming to the local three parks and beach, let alone the local businesses that rely on customers’ ability to easily access them. The ratio of parks to parking is way out of balance down here already, in my opinion.”
Unfortunately, there is no real room for compromise here. Succinctly, the question is this: park or parking lot? The area at the end of Madison Street can’t be both.
So which is it to be?