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Downtown parking still a problem for businesses

WORTHINGTON -- Enforcement of parking regulations was the primary topic Tuesday at the first meeting of the Downtown Parking Advisory Board in nearly four years.

The city committee, which last met April 4, 2002, had scheduled Tuesday's meeting to discuss whether or not it should disband. Revenues from assessments to business for downtown parking has decreased gradually over the years -- from $18,783.20 in 1997 to $1,679 last year -- while dollars spent for enforcement have diminished drastically.

Director of Public Works Jim Laffrenzen explained that Myra Onnen, the city's neighborhood services officer, had been the individual enforcing downtown parking regulations over the years.

"What's happening with Myra is that with her neighborhood officer position, that's consumed 100 percent of her time," Laffrenzen said, adding that the city hasn't received a parking-related complaint from a downtown business over the last year.

That doesn't mean there haven't been violations, however. Janet Belz, co-owner of Poise 'N' Ivy, told fellow committee members that she's observed instances of store owners parking in front of their own businesses, as well as other vehicles not moved over the course of several hours.

"If customers can't park in front at our front door, they aren't coming in, and that hurts," Belz said. "Our retail business is down. I don't know if it's because of parking or something else, but if something isn't done, we won't be there."

City Engineer Dwayne Haffield noted that enforcement is "a major cost" in maintaining the assessment district. If there's no enforcement, he said, the elimination of the district should be discussed.

But the concerns of Belz and others delayed action on the district's elimination and the discontinuation of the committee.

"What I'm hearing is that when enforcement happens the problem goes away, and when enforcement goes away the problem returns," Laffrenzen said during committee discussion. "One next step would be going to city council. ... We could discuss hiring additional staff. I do have someone in mind that's already in a part-time position."

Bob Petrich, the city council's representative on the committee, said he believed the city needs to continue playing some type of active role in the matter.

"I think it's the city's responsibility to provide parking in downtown Worthington," Petrich said.

Committee member Marty Johnson said he wasn't convinced that stepped-up enforcement is the best solution. He suggested that businesses make a greater effort to work together on parking issues, adding that a letter could be sent to businesses urging them to cooperate with their neighbors.

"I understand the need for enforcement, but enforcement's not going to do it," Johnson said. "You make them move ... they just move a block or two over."

The committee resolved to meet again at noon April 4 to discuss downtown parking issues further.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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