By Mike Lednovich
On paper the plan to add 19 new parking spaces to the city owned parking lot next to City Hall seemed as simple as kicking in a 6-inch putt in golf.
But during 30 minutes of review of the plan by the City’s Technical Review Committee Thursday, Interim City Manager Charlie George became so exasperated he threatened to “kill the project all together.”
George and City Planner Sal Cumella went toe-to-toe debating over the requirements of the city’s Land Development Code and approvals of the Historic District Council in trying to add more downtown parking spaces.
“Let’s just agree to disagree,” George told Cumella at one point.
All city construction projects are reviewed by the Technical Review Committee – composed of city staff representing planning, building, stormwater and fire departments and the city arborist. The TRC reviews construction applications and provides compliance reports for site plans, rezoning, amendments to the Land Development Code, preliminary subdivision plats, final subdivision plats, and amendments to previously issued local development orders.
According to the submitted plans, 10 new parking spaces would be added to what is now unpaved land next to the railroad tracks. Another nine angular paved parking spaces would be installed by the pocket park on the lot.
“We have the LDC standards and these are the LDC standards,” Cumella told George in reviewing aspects of the plan. Cumella said the city was required to follow all of the requirements just as private parties are held to the same standards.
The litany of LDC specifications and Historic District Council reviews led George to say, “All these are project killers that the City Commission has already approved and the CRA created. We don’t have budgets to do that kind of work.
“That’s a different discussion,” Cumella retorted.
George said “We’re trying to solve one of the most important projects in the city and are directed by the commission to do this.”
Cumella said any variances from the LDC standards could be reviewed by the Historic District Council.
“I think we’ll just pull this and we just won’t build it,” George said. “For me, these projects are not typically done in the city, so the LDC (requirements) like in unimproved right of ways is slowing this whole thing down.”
George and Cumella began sparring over whether the parking plan was required to be approved by the Historic District Council.
“Here’s where I’m going to get a little defiant,” George said. He argued that adding parking spaces to an existing parking lot were ‘improvements’ and not new construction and as such did not need HDC approvals.
“The maintenance department, utilities department and the parks department do things downtown in the historic district every single day, are you telling me everything they do they have to go through the HDC?” George asked Cumella.
Cumella said the city in the past had done many projects without HDC review and “contrary to HDC guidelines. People come to us and say why isn’t the city doing what we’re required to do,” Cumella said.
The discussion got more heated when city staff told George that a sidewalk needed to be put in where four parking spaces now exist along Second Street.
“You’re going to kill four parking places, so what’s the point of this project,” George asked. “It’s a sidewalk (going to) nowhere.”
Cumella argued that the city parking lot was built out of compliance with the LDC, “so any time we can have compliance we should.”
The next step in the process would be for the city to appear before the Historic District Council to seek variances for the parking project.
“I’ll have to talk to my bosses (city commissioners) and tell them what has happened and see which way they want to go,” George said.`