There soon will be about 70 more ways for my wife to get an overtime parking ticket in downtown Lawrence, and a majority of downtown property owners seem happy about it.
In fact, a pretty big majority, it seems.
If you remember, city commissioners have been waiting for the results of a protest petition before deciding whether to add another level — or about 70 spaces — to the proposed parking garage that will be adjacent to the expanded Lawrence Public Library at Seventh and Vermont streets.
Downtown property owners were given a chance to kill the project via petition because downtown property owners will pay for about half of the approximately $840,000 addition through special assessments on their property tax bills.
Well, the results of the petition are in, and who said downtown can’t be united on an issue? Depending on how you slice it, the petition only drew signatures from 12 to 13 percent of the private property owners in the district. Owners of 23 of the 194 privately owned properties in the district signed the petition, which is about 11.9 percent. If you look at it from a square footage standpoint, the property owners who protested the additional expense control about 13.6 percent of the privately owned square footage in town — by lot size — according to calculations done by the city.
All this is to say that city commissioners probably will act next week to formally approve the extra level of parking for the garage project. Mayor Bob Schumm — who is a downtown property owner and who did not sign the petition — told me that is what he’ll ask his fellow commissioners to do.
“I think this is a real opportunity for us to accomplish more parking in downtown and for us to do so at a pretty good discount,” Schumm said.
The city contends the extra 70 spaces of parking will be cheaper to build now than at any point in the future because the work will be done as part of the library project, which already was designed to include 250 spaces in a new parking garage. The extra level will bring the garage’s total to about 320 spaces (my high school math teacher would be so proud of me right now). The project will produce quite a bit more parking in the area than exists today. The surface parking lot that will be replaced by the garage had about 125 spaces. So, that means there will be an extra . . . (never mind, the batteries in my calculator went dead.)
Schumm said he expected a protest petition on the parking project wouldn’t gather much support. The city has structured the project so that non-profit property owners — such as churches — don’t have to pay the special assessment. The city at large will pick up those costs. Property owners who provide off-street parking — even though the city’s code doesn’t require it in downtown — also will be given a credit for that portion of the property.
Property owners basically will pay about 30 cents per square foot on property they own — which is based on their lot size, not their building size. Property owners can pay the amount all at once, or have it spread out over 10 years worth of property tax bills with nominal interest.
For a petition to be successful, it likely was going to have to attract the support of several of the big time landlords in downtown. It attracted some but not all. Most notably neither Doug Compton nor the properties owned by the Fritzel family signed the petition. Properties owned by George and Judy Paley did sign the petition. Rand Allen, who owns a significant amount of property near the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts also signed, as did Rod Ernst, the hardware store owner who also owns several other buildings downtown. City Commissioner Mike Amyx — who owns a barbershop downtown — also signed the petition. He previously has voted against the parking garage expansion.
Work to prepare the parking lot for garage construction already has begun. City officials have said they hope to have at least part of the garage open by Memorial Day to accommodate the swimming season at the nearby Outdoor Aquatics Center.