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Most everyone agrees that to keep business thriving on Madison Street, more parking is essential. The key question, though, is who will pay for adding parking spaces? And with the price of a 200-car parking garage pegged at $3.5 million, the costs are substantial.

At a meeting last Wednesday at Village Hall, Village Administrator Michael Sturino unveiled a plan calling for new businesses coming to the street to pay substantial fees toward parking.

The plan calls for new downtown businesses to pay a fee to the village in lieu of a requirement to provide parking. The one-time fee of $2,500 per 1,000 square feet would be a prerequisite to attaining an occupancy permit, and all money collected would be put towards the construction or maintenance of parking facilities in the downtown district, including a possible parking garage.

Under the plan, existing businesses would be exempt from the fee. New businesses would still be required to provide at least two off street parking spaces for employee use. The current plan, Sturino said, is often ineffective as new businesses often find it impossible to provide adequate parking and end up requesting variances from the village. Restaurants, for example, are currently required to provide one space for every 50 square feet of seating area.

Though Wednesday’s meeting was billed as a special meeting of the village council, the only Commissioner in attendance was Mark Hosty. Also participating in the discussion were Mike Boyle, head of the village’s building department, and several Madison Street business owners.

All in attendance seemed to agree with the basic premise of Sturino’s plan, but some expressed concern that it could discourage new business. “If it applies to everyone, this will raise a lot of money, but will it also raise clamor?” asked Paulson’s Paint and Wallpaper owner Rick Stephanie.

Several ideas were discussed to ease the impact of the fee, including crediting businesses that are able to produce on-site parking and limiting the number of times the fee could be charged to businesses occupying the same location.

Caffe de Lucca owner Art Sundry suggested limiting the fee to once every three years per site, while others suggested only charging the fee when a site changed uses rather than anytime it changed owners.

“If someone owns a building and every time it’s leased out there’s a fee, I think it’s pretty onerous,” said Hosty, who is also a Madison Street business person.

Another proposal that was met with some resistance was the idea of doubling the fee for restaurants and taverns, which generally use more parking spaces than other businesses.

“I think that could be a little steep,” said Sundry after the meeting. “I’m not necessarily adverse to a little higher contribution from restaurants and taverns, but you can only push so far,” he said.

Sturino emphasized the common interest held by all Madison Street business owners in making the area appealing to customers. “Everyone on Madison Street has a vested interest in the continued success of Madison Street,” he said. “That’s not going to happen unless we are able to provide (the necessary) infrastructure and parking.”

The day after the meeting, Sturino said he was encouraged by the interest in the plan and the productive brainstorming session, but feared that if the plan was watered down it would lose its effectiveness.

“I will say, they were picking it apart in a way that was going to render it useless ” that’s not something I would be interested in suggesting to the zoning board,” he said. He noted that he was not sure where the reluctance of the business owners stemmed from since none of their businesses would be affected.

Gloria Backman of the group Citizens United in Forest Park (CUinFP) agreed, going as far as to suggest that the existing businesses should not be exempt from the fee. “I don’t think it should be the responsibility of the businesses yet to come….this is a collective effort between everybody,” she said.

Backman, who attended the meeting along with her husband Steve Backman, said she was encouraged by the village’s decision to tackle the parking problem but that there were several factors that had not yet been considered, including the necessity to ensure that if a garage was constructed, people would use it.

“If we’re going to have a structure on Madison, we’re going to have to do zoned parking in our neighborhoods ” would you pay for a parking lot, pay for a meter or park free?,” she asked. She said that many Madison Street customers, and even business owners, currently park on residential streets to avoid paying meters.

Sturino said that before the next meeting, scheduled for Sept. 7, he would prepare a report showing how much money the plan would raise as well as the impact of each suggestion proposed at the meeting.

A garage with 200 parking spots would cost $3.5 million to build, according to Sturino. He said he hoped that the village would be able to contribute $140,000 per year, but that the rest of the fund would have to be financed through other means.

One idea proposed at the meeting was to sell some of the spaces in the garage to permanent owners, but Sturino said more research would be necessary before considering that possibility.

“We’ll absolutely consider most any idea that will get the garage built,” he said.