A plan to expand a proposed public parking garage for downtown Lawrence seems to be on a smoother path than it was just a few months ago.
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting heard no opposition from members of the public to create a new benefit district that would add a special assessment to the tax bills of downtown property owners to pay for an extra 72 spaces in the planned parking garage that will be next to the Lawrence Public Library.
But the project isn’t a done deal yet. Commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution creating the benefit district and granting the city the authority to add the extra level of parking to the public garage.
The resolution, though, also includes a 20-day protest period where property owners can object to the creation of the benefit district.
By state law, if more than 50 percent of the property owners and more than 50 percent of the square footage in the district objects to the creation of a benefit district, it can’t proceed.
Because the city owns large amounts of property in the downtown district, it will be nearly impossible for a successful protest petition to be filed under the letter of the law, City Manager David Corliss said.
But Corliss said that if it is clear a majority of the noncity-owned properties object to the district, he will recommend that the city not proceed with the extra level of parking, even though the petition wouldn’t be a valid protest petition under state law.
The lack of downtown property owners speaking against the project was different than when the idea was last heard in September. Then, several owners of large property in downtown objected to the proposed assessments that would be added to their property tax bills.
Since that time, however, several elements of the project have changed. They include:
• The city now has a firm bid for how much it will cost to add an extra level of parking to the proposed garage. Bids came in at $834,806. Previously, the city had estimated the project would cost about $1 million.
• The city has exempted all nonprofits — including the large church properties in downtown — from paying the special assessments.
• The city has said downtown properties that have off-street parking lots won’t have to pay a special assessment on those lots. Property owners — including a representative from The World Company, the publisher of the Journal-World — previously had argued businesses that provide off-street parking should receive some credit since the city’s zoning code does not require downtown businesses to provide any off-street parking.
Under the plan, property owners will be charged about 30 cents per square foot on all the land they own in the downtown district. Property owners can pay the special assessment up front, or pay the assessment over 10 years with interest.
Corliss said that due to the timing of the project, the assessment won’t show up on tax bills until 2014.
The project did meet with some opposition on Tuesday night. City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who owns property in downtown, voted against the benefit district. He alerted commissioners that he may well sign any protest petition that gets started.
“I’ve been pretty clear that I haven’t been supportive of this extra floor on the parking garage,” Amyx said.
Commissioners likely will have to make a final decision on whether to move forward with the extra 72 spaces by early February.
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.