Lawrence city commissioners are set to decide whether to up the ante on how much the public would pay for an extra level of parking in a proposed downtown parking garage.
Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are set to consider a plan that would have the general public pay about $435,000 — or more than half the total cost — to add 72 spaces to the garage planned to be built as part of the Lawrence Public Library project.
The idea is receiving a positive recommendation from city staff members.
“The reason I’m recommending we proceed is because we get such few opportunities to add parking downtown,” City Manager David Corliss said. “This extra level basically will be the equivalent of adding another surface parking lot in downtown.
“I don’t think any of us know of any properties we want to bulldoze that would allow us to add another surface parking lot.”
Commissioners were presented with a different plan in September, which would have had private property owners in the downtown district paying for the majority of the extra level of parking. But commissioners heard from several large downtown landowners who objected to the way the city was going to place special assessments on their properties to pay for the garage.
On Tuesday, commissioners will hear a new plan that will relieve several properties from the special assessment, which will cause the city at large to pick up a larger-than-anticipated portion of the project’s cost.
The city has received a bid of $834,806 to add the extra level of parking. Under the new plan, the city at large will pay 52 percent of the bill. Previously, the city was planning on using general tax dollars to pay for about 35 percent of the project.
Under the new plan, owners will pay about 30 cents for every square foot of property they own in the downtown district. The assessment is only made against the lot, and not the building itself.
The public price tag has increased because the new plan proposes for the city to pay the special assessments of two types of property in downtown. They are:
• Properties owned by non-profit organizations. Several downtown churches had expressed concern about being charged for the new garage. Several churches argued they shouldn’t be charged the assessment because they create demand for parking during a time when many other parking spots aren’t being used in downtown.
• Private property that is being used to provide private parking in downtown. Several businesses — including the Journal-World — provide parking lots for employees and customers. Representatives of several of those businesses had asked to be given credit for providing off-street parking, even though the city’s downtown zoning doesn’t require it.
Under the new plan, businesses would not be charged an assessment on the portion of their properties used for parking, but would be charged an assessment on the remainder of their properties.
Corliss said despite the increased cost to the public, the city’s budget could handle the extra expense. He is proposing to take about $50,000 a year out of the city’s parking fund and its reserve funds to pay for the city’s share of the project.
City officials sent out information about the new plan to affected property owners more than a week ago. Corliss said he thinks the new plan has made the idea of an extra level of parking more popular with some downtown property owners, but not all.
“I think this makes it more palatable, but I still think there will be property owners concerned about the cost,” Corliss said. “I understand that, but I still go back to this is probably a once-a-decade or so opportunity.”
The extra 72 spaces would be in addition to the 250 spaces that already are included in the design of the new public parking garage for the library. The library’s current surface parking lot — which will be eliminated when the garage is built — has about 125 spaces.