A second screening of the parking survey used by village officials to recommend the expansion of two downtown lots did little to soothe opponents Monday night.
Some 100 people packed village hall for a public hearing with the village council, and most of those who spoke vetted concerns with the project. Primarily, residents took issue with the possible acquisition of six residential properties to make room for an additional 50 parking spaces. Many said the paving over of homes would detract from the village’s small town charm, while ultimately doing little to address the estimated shortage of 158 spaces.
“I don’t want to lose my home,” Patty McKenna said. McKenna’s home on Thomas Avenue is one of the properties the village may acquire through negotiations or eminent domain.
Opponents also railed against elected officials for allowing developers to build along Madison Street without providing additional parking.
“As long as variances are given to builders, this is going to continue to happen,” Dr. Lori Lipkin, a business owner and homeowner in the community, said.
In beginning the more than three hour meeting, Mayor Anthony Calderone said it is important that any inaccurate information regarding the proposal be cleared up. He outlined the council’s discussions during two closed-door meetings in June and September, reminding commissioners that there appeared to be a “pretty clear” indication to Village Administrator Mike Sturino “to pursue action pertaining to additional parking.”
Calderone said everyone is entitled to change their mind, but said it was clear the body was in agreement.
These remarks drew sharp criticism from Commissioner Patrick Doolin as the meeting drew to a close. Doolin, who has said he will run against Calderone for mayor in 2007, unleashed a torrent of accusations as he attempted to distance himself from the proposal. He accused the village of misinforming the public with respect to the scope of the project and said there was absolutely no clear direction to be drawn from the September meeting.
“I don’t have faith and I don’t have confidence in the way this has played out,” Doolin said.
Those remarks, however, contrasted with statements Doolin made following a Nov. 13 presentation to the council regarding the proposal. At the time, Doolin said he supported giving residents a “brief window of opportunity” to weigh in, but the project has already been the subject of lengthy public debate.
“At some point we’ve got to move this process forward,” Doolin said at the Nov. 13 meeting.
For years now, the village council has loosely discussed the parking crunch along Madison Street but only began more formal talks in November 2005. An engineering firm was paid $19,000 to study the problem and on Nov. 13 presented its findings. That study was the basis of a presentation from the village administrator to expand two existing surface lots along Madison Street. The lot at the northwest corner of Circle and Madison streets would be expanded north, according to the plan, and the lot at Constitution Court would be extended south to connect it with another nearby parking area.
That presentation was reiterated on Monday with additional cost estimates the village previously refused to release.
A request from the Review under the Freedom of Information Act in November for a complete copy of the report was denied. However, the village administrator discussed many of the cost projections revealed at the public hearing on Monday, but did so strictly in “hypothetical” terms. At the time of the Review’s request, Sturino declined to release those portions of the parking study.
According to Jo Ellen Charlton of RHA&A, the firm hired to conduct the study, it will cost roughly $25,000 per space to expand the existing surface lots.
Residents also chided the village for what some described as an exclusionary public input process. Steve Backman held up a copy of the survey given to residents during two workshops with the engineering firm. All of the questions specifically targeted business owners, Backman said, and resident input was relegated to a section for additional comments.
During Backman’s comments, Commissioner Mark Hosty quietly excused himself from the room, but was quick to respond upon his return.
“I used the time when Mr. Backman was talking to go to the restroom because I don’t care what he has to say,” Hosty said.
Of the more than 20 residents who spoke at the public hearing, three voiced their support for the project as it stands. The first to do so was Augie Aleksy, owner of Centuries & Sleuths bookstore on Madison Street.
“I just hope the residents and the businesses don’t lose this opportunity to keep this community growing,” Aleksy said.
Art Sundry, president of the Main Street Redevelopment Association and Laurie Kokenes of the Chamber of Commerce also spoke in favor of the proposal.
No action was taken by the council Monday night, and a timeline was not offered for putting the issue to a vote.