Lease of spaces near courthouse set to expire next month

Douglas County is giving up its claim to nearly three dozen parking spaces at 11th and Massachusetts streets, even though the government’s long-term parking crunch hasn’t been relieved.

County officials say they continue to struggle with a shortage of parking for employees and visitors to the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Mass., and the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

“There’s still a parking problem down here,” said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. “The kind of solutions that work with the existing number of parking spaces are a continual effort. How do you get more people to ride their bikes, for example? Â Or how do you convince people to ride the bus, or to park in other lots three blocks away?”

Now that construction projects at both buildings are nearing completion, the county is terminating its temporary lease for 31 parking spaces at nearby Allen Press. The lot, northeast of 11th and Massachusetts streets, has provided temporary relief for employee vehicles displaced by construction trailers, contractors’ trucks and cars owned by people working on the buildings.

The lease ends Nov. 30, but the county’s parking quandary is sure to continue  especially on days when dozens of people are called for jury duty.

County Commissioner Charles Jones said he wanted to look into ways to manage available parking better, without immediately resorting to finding or building new parking lots.

“Maybe we should designate some spaces closer to the building for juries, and have our employees park father away,” Jones said.

Commissioners have been grappling with parking challenges for years, without solution.

The county already owns some residential lots east of the Judicial & Law Enforcement Center’s parking lot, but commissioners have been unable to decide what to do with them. Suggestions to turn them into parking lots have raised opposition from neighbors and triggered questions that remain unanswered.

“If the commission decides to utilize the vacant lots across Rhode Island (Street), you’ve got a potential issue of whether the city has the authority to tell us we can or cannot do that,” Weinaug said. “And you’re also in the environs of a structure that has been identified as having historical significance  and then you’re dealing with the same issues as you were with the houses on Ohio Street.”

Earlier this week, Kansas University demolished three homes to make way for construction of a new scholarship hall on Ohio Street. Demolition was delayed a year because homes were within the regulatory environs of the Usher House, now home to Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 1425 Tenn., which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Like the Ohio Street homes, the county’s lots on Rhode Island Street are within 500 feet of two properties on the national register: the county courthouse, 1100 Mass., and the Old English Lutheran Church, now an office building at 1040 N.H.