Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Commission Meeting Tonight - Parking and Stop Signs

I'll be there at City Hall, in my Semi-Assigned Seat.  How about you?

Semi Assigned... with these knees, I need to stretch out.  That's the only thing I miss about the old chambers, that little step that I could put my left leg up...

Tonight there will be more weighty things to discuss other than my knees.  They're going to be reviewing our stop sign at NE 7th Ave and NE 22nd Drive.  They will also be discussing Parking.  I'm sure the stop sign isn't the most important thing, but it is certainly important enough for them to discuss and leave in place.

They also will be discussing the Parking Solution as proposed by Wilton Manors Main Street.  That is a good thing and it is a massive change to the way the city is laid out in the central business district.  The problem arose back in the bad old days when desperate to make some sort of change to Wilton Drive, they had to do something.  What they did was to widen the drive and make it easier for people to get to and from the place.   Great idea, for a starter, but the problem was that it became too successful for its own good.

Before the change, the saying as I will paraphrase Commissioner Scott Newton, You could have fired a cannon down the drive from one end to the other and never hit anyone.   Now we have a Drive with a four lane highway running down through it, inadequate parking, and it is choking on its own success.  Any given bar night (Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and Sunday Evening) the immediate neighborhood around the drive is stuffed with cars seeking parking, people walking to their destination, and people leaving after having their fun. 

The reason for the parking problem was that the design guidelines as set out in the code for the city was intended to pack in as many opportunities for retail space as possible.   Since there were no open shops or practically none in that time, parking was not considered.   We have 7 wildly popular bars on the one mile of road, and parking for approximately 130 cars.  That was by design.  

Personally I think any business who opens shop without securing parking for themselves at their own cost has to have their business plan turned down.  On the other hand, that is what code here says - open up and worry about parking later.   We all partially created the problem in order to get this place started.   The crime rate was out of control, there were no businesses, and you couldn't walk out of your front door without taking the attitude that you may have to Duck and Cover.

Since the code worked, but was admittedly incomplete, the Plan addresses the problem.  Using the most conservative of numbers, the Plan will produce a profit within the first year, and will allow the City to improve the drive by the end of year three so that we can have parking pay for the lot on the old City Hall site, trees in the medium, and curb cut improvements that are adequate for the task.

All of that can happen if the money from parking revenue is allowed to be earmarked for the improvement of the Drive and not siphoned off for other purposes.  That will be a tempting low hanging fruit and with the large looming drop in tax revenue here I am hoping that the City will allow that revenue to remain on the tree and used for its intended purpose.  It can help other areas of the city as well, but it has to be allowed to run its course.   Three years down the line we would have a Drive brought to another level, and the discussion will be that now that we've got a surplus how about putting on a second level to the City Hall garage at Hagen and other improvement projects.

We just have to get through tonight. 

The other aspect of the discussion is putting this on the ballot.   I don't believe that this is the right place for the discussion.   The Plan is an amazingly complex plan.  It requires significant understanding and discussion of the details, funding methods, and drawings.   The law in this state says that you have to state the costs and do so in a very short amount of space.   It does not require the statement that this plan will produce a surplus of money to the city nor will it allow full discussion of the benefits. 

As a resident I want this to be funded so that in no way I personally pay more in Taxes and that in no way I lose services.   I can see that being achieved in one of two ways, excluding just doing the job out of the rainy day fund since it will be so profitable.   First a Revenue Bond.  It can be set up to allow the revenue from parking created by striping the drive in the first year being earmarked to pay off the costs in the second year.   Yes, that is a big oversimplification, but that's the very high order description.  The other second alternative is to have a special assessment or one time tax on those properties within the Entertainment District.  Tax them enough to pay for the first phase of the drive and do so based on the square footage of the buildings in the district.  I would like to see the numbers on that, but I suspect that most business owners would be willing to pay in to get the parking they need and get things moving again.

In this age of neo-conservative revisionist politics and spin doctoring that results in a right of center President being called unfairly, a Socialist, and people wanting short sound bites, the ballot is not the place to discuss complex matters.  I believe that this is not a more democratic way of making the decision and I find that admittedly ironic. 

The City has been given the opportunity to pass this sort of Plan in the past many times.  They have been urged to move forward by the business community and residents alike.   Those who are against the idea of widening the drive are out of step with the rest of the community, and need to be talked to but the plan must go through. 

If not, we'll be back discussing this next year and the year after until someone in another city begins to get critical mass and the businesses move away.   At that point we will be scratching our heads and looking for a cannon to test Commissioner Newton's quote.

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