Otsego’s downtown public parking lots are shown with the number of spaces shown.

Parking questions raised in downtown Otsego

By: 
Ryan Lewis (Editor)

The issue of parking in downtown Otsego is beginning to be talked about among the business community and on city boards.

The area has 347 public parking spaces in four major lots and along the 100 blocks of Allegan and Farmer streets, all within a block of that intersection. That breaks down to 290 in the lots and 37 in parallel spaces along the roads.

Jared Polonowski, owner of Dougie’s Family Bar and Grill, is hoping to raise some alarm bells.

With his restaurant poised to open in May, he sought last month to lease a parking space on Farmer Street to reserve for his customers, a “To-go” carry-out spot. The city planning commission denied the request.

“I asked because I think parking is going to be a problem,” Polonowski said, calling the planning commission decision “unfortunate.”

He said he regularly sees the spots in the city lot north of West Allegan Street fill up for all kinds of events, noting that two Fridays ago both it and the lot near the Otsego Historical Society Museum were full, likely for the VFW’s Friday fish fry.

Without the parking space, he expects customers picking up orders may have to walk a lengthy distance; that, or he’ll shoulder the cost of another employee to run orders out to customers’ cars.

He also requested and was denied a spot reserved in the public lot for the tenant that will be living on the upper floor of the Dougie’s building.

“If there’s anything going like a festival, they’re not going to be able to come home,” he said. “I’ve been told that that is just what people can expect when they live downtown. But we’re trying to revitalize Otsego and ensure its success; you have to increase the value of what you offer and parking is a part of that.”

He said there was no ordinance that allowed for the leases, so there is no mechanism for him to appeal the planning commission’s decision. He said he does not intend to bring a lawsuit.

 

Beginning

Otsego city manager Thad Beard said Polonowski’s request is prompting discussions about parking.

“From Day 1 that I’ve worked here, it’s always been commented that Otsego has so much public parking in downtown,” he said.

Now, however, he is seeing there may be changes coming; in fact, he noticed the size of the fish fry crowd a couple weeks ago too.

Beard said, “I think Dougie’s is going to do great business, and we’ll probably need more parking. I think in general, it needs increasing just because other businesses are doing well, too. It’s a good problem to have.”

He said Polonowski was the only business owner approaching the city so far about parking, but it has prompted discussions.

“Typically, when there’s a perceived need, there is real need,” he said.

Beard said there are no long-term plans in place for parking.

“No specific need has been identified yet,” he said. “Ultimately more spaces would require land acquisition. The planning commission would initiate that effort.”

Planning commission chair Mark Aldrich said the only discussions so far were related to Polonowski’s requests.

“Speaking for myself, my feeling is that parking is not bad downtown, with the exception of, say, where there’s the Gus Macker tournament or the Creative Arts Festival. And I’m not sure we should be using that for guidance on parking.

“I know we have talked about the spaces that have lined the streets and trying to make more out of that space,” Aldrich said, referring to the early 2014 plans of the lane-reduction plan along M-89 through downtown Otsego. One aspect of that plan was abandoned after public pushback: reverse angled parking.

Beard said he doesn’t see that coming anytime soon.

“Emotions are so raw over that,” he said. “But that was the intent, to look at street parking. It is regularly exhausted.”

He said because downtown businesses have so little of the street parking available, the city allows them to count the spaces in public lots within 300 feet towards their total to meet zoning ordinance requirements.

 

Resurfacing

While there may not be much in the way of new parking being discussed, improving the quality of the current lots is.

Otsego Downtown Development Authority chair Marty Bennett said that while the DDA hadn’t yet sought bids for resurfacing any lots, it’s something that will be decided soon.

The DDA budget for 2017-18 is being prepared, and Bennett believes there will be some money left over from the current year to save for the work. He said that’s partly due to the DDA sticking to its budget and partly because it received more funds than expected from the state to replace the personal property tax, which is being phased out.

“We had projected about $20,000 (in revenue) as replacement for the tax, but we ended up getting $70,000 from state,” he said. The DDA had an approximately $230,000 budget this year. Next year’s, which begins July 1, is projected at $200,000.

Bennett said the DDA spent some of the unexpected revenue from the state to replace aging flower baskets downtown, It also recently pitched in $12,000 on a contract with C2A2 for engineering work to investigate future infrastructure on the riverfront.

As for resurfacing parking lots, Bennett said a decision was needed, especially for the lot northwest of the main intersection.

“Other lots have been redone,” he said. “We did half of this one a few years back. The idea was at some point do a mill-and-fill—as opposed to letting it go too long, and then you have to dig it up and start over, spending twice as much.

“I’m not saying it’s at that point, but if we do that, maybe we need to redo the entire lot altogether; and if we’re doing that, maybe we need to rethink how it’s laid out.”

Deciding between that and simply grinding down the surface and laying new asphalt is a big difference in cost.

“I don’t foresee (completely repaving and redesigning) in this budget time period, but it’s something we’re talking about. If we never talk about it, it’ll never get done.”

That will probably be balanced against riverfront development plans as well.

“We will probably start setting aside some money for riverfront development,” Bennett said. “There’s no exact cost for that, but money will be needed when we get to the point of doing something with it.”

Contact Ryan Lewis at rmlewis@allegannews.com or (269) 673-5534.

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