Janesville City Council approves parking stall fix
JANESVILLE By a narrow margin, the Janesville City Council on Monday agreed to fix about half the 100 parking spots closed on the downtown parking plaza.
A downtown business owner said after the meeting the decision does not meet parking demands.
The parking plaza is deteriorating, and city staff has asked the council for $175,000 to fix 100 or so spots that currently are closed. Staff hope the fix will extend the plaza's life for about four years, giving the city time to apply for grants and to plan for riverfront redevelopment and alternative parking.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has said it likely would not issue a permit to rebuild the structure above the Rock River.
A second alternative would cost about $100,000 and would open about half of the stalls. Both plans being considered include an engineering fee of about $19,500, most of which has already been spent.
Councilman Russ Steeber favored spending $175,000 for the short-term fix because the structure is too valuable to the downtown area to abandon. The people that the council depends on to revitalize the downtown are the very people who rely on the parking, he said.
"This city has gone through enough hardship," Steeber said. "We need to start investing in the community. It's a small amount to pay to keep the downtown vibrant and going forward."
Councilman Sam Liebert agreed, saying the council's top priority is creating an environment that will bring jobs to Janesville.
"I'm sick of seeing closed businesses and construction cones," he said. "If we're trying to make our downtown something to be proud of again, I think $175,000 is a lot—but it's a small drop in our bucket when you look at the long-term effects it could have over four years."
Council members debated the merits of a downtown parking survey, which measures parking capacity for one day a year.
Councilman Matt Kealy figured parking is at about 40 percent capacity when all downtown parking is considered. He asked whether the remaining 175 stalls on the plaza satisfy the city's needs and was told they do.
Steeber, though, said the one-time snapshot is not fair and said that parking is at a premium at other times, such as on the weekends and during events.
City Manager Eric Levitt said he, too, is concerned about the importance put on a one-day count. He also doubted whether the city has the money to tear down the plaza in the next four years.
Kealy said he couldn't support spending the money even though he has a downtown business. Despite having a parking ramp located behind his business, Kealy said potential customers tell him they won't come to his restaurant unless they get one of the two spots in front.
Kealy said the city should use the remaining $150,000 it would spend on repairs to the plaza to find more surface parking, or put it toward building a small ramp on the west side.
"The bigger picture is, this puts the ball in motion," Kealy said, adding the city should have been more prepared because it has known the plaza would not last forever.
Council President Kathy Voskuil noted the city has spent more than $550,000 on parking plaza repairs since 2004.
As someone who parks on the plaza every day, Voskuil said she struggles with the low overall occupancy rate and said that people who work out with her at the downtown athletic club want to get the closest parking spots.
The city has bigger parking issues than just the parking plaza, she said.
"I know people want to park in close proximity to the exact business, but at the end of the day there is parking available in the city of Janesville," she said.
Councilman DuWayne Severson agreed with Kealy and Voskuil, again noting the overall capacity.
"If it were over 50 percent, I might be able to support it (spending the money)," he said. But residents will have to realize they can and must park in spots other than on the plaza, and they might as well start now, he said.
A motion to fix all 100 spots at a cost of $175,000 failed 4-3, with Steeber, Liebert, Deb Dongarra-Adams voting "yes" and Jim Farrell, Voskuil, Kealy and Severson voting "no."
The council then debated a second motion to borrow $100,000 to repair half the spots. That motion passed, 4-3, with Steeber, Farrell, Liebert and Adams voting "yes." Severson, Voskuil and Kealy voted "no."
"I think if we turn this down in total, we send a bad message to the downtown business owner and the city that we don't value downtown," Farrell said. "I think statistically we would have enough stalls if we went with the ($100,000 option), and we basically have committed to the engineering consulting costs, anyway."
The council also asked city staff to find a way to close off the remaining 50 stalls that looks better than using yellow barricades. Levitt estimated that cost at less than $5,000.
Dongarra–Adams also suggested changing the all-day stalls on the plaza to two-hour stalls for customers rather than employees.
After the meeting, Carol Campbell, the owner of Riverfront Centre adjacent to the plaza, said she was disappointed by the vote. Taking a traffic count on one day—and a Thursday at that—is not a fair way to gauge capacity, she said.
Also, customers who use her building do not use parking on the east side of the river. However, that parking was included in the survey.
"I don't think they (council members) have done enough homework on the logistics of the area," Campbell said.
Automated trash, recycling pickup plan facing delays
The city's switch to an automated trash and recyclable collection system has been delayed from fall to spring.
An equipment failure at the company manufacturing the carts is to blame, according to a city news release.
Cascade Engineering notified the city that the company's manufacturing facility experienced a "catastrophic failure" of equipment required to manufacture the wheeled carts.
"Because of this equipment failure, Cascade Engineering is unable to begin distributing carts to residents during the month of September 2012, as planned," according to the release.
The city has been working for almost two years to prepare for the switch Oct. 1. It solicited proposals from vendors and in March selected Cascade Engineering to manufacture and deliver the carts.
When the city learned of the delay, staff reviewed other options, including hiring another company to manufacture the carts. All options increased the potential that winter weather could affect cart distribution and collection startup.
Manual trash and recyclable collection will continue until automated collection is implemented in spring 2013.
For more information, call the City Services Center at (608) 755-3110.