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Getting to The Centre of parking issues

The options for solving parking issues near the New Richmond Sports Center, New Richmond Area Centre and middle school have been whittled down.

A public informational meeting on the topic was conducted Jan. 12 with few people from the neighborhood attending.

The parking debate started strong several months ago as many homeowners in that area attended gatherings to express their concerns and offer suggestions for solutions.

The previous discussion resulted in about 28 "potential solutions" that were individually addressed by a recent parking study completed by Glen VanWormer, a traffic engineer with consultant Short Elliot Hendrickson.

"Some of them were good solutions, and others were not so good," VanWormer said.

Throughout the study, VanWormer reported, it was clear that parking is a problem in that neighborhood at certain times of the day.

"Parking demand does exceed supply out there," he noted. The problem is especially acute during the Centre's peak times in the early morning, late afternoon and early evening.

The parking shortage should be lessened once the middle school is converted into a new community center this summer, said Cheryl Emerson, Community Education director who will also be the facility's manager.

When it's no longer a school, eliminating major bus and vehicle traffic in the mornings and afternoons, the parking demand should even out throughout the day.

"We won't add to the frustration," Emerson said. "I think it will be better."

At last week's meeting, each potential parking solution was reviewed and those in attendance offered their opinions about whether each option should still be considered for implementation.

By the end of the two-hour gathering, a handful of options remained on the table.

Among them:

• Providing access to Fifth Street from the west lot at The Centre, in an effort to encourage more efficient use of the lot. The estimated cost of $3,200 would include pine trees that would block headlights from shining in a neighbor's front windows.

• Providing parking in a portion of the green area on the south side of The Centre. Angle parking along the northern edge of Fifth Street would provide eight additional spots that could be designated as employee parking. That could open up spaces in the main Centre lots.

• Reducing the width of parking spaces in The Centre's west parking lot to nine feet. They currently are striped as 10-foot spaces. Four additional parking spots would result.

• Expanding The Centre's north parking lot by 10 percent, adding 27 spaces to the existing 49-space lot. Seven more spaces could also be added to the southern portion of that lot as well. Total cost of that option is about $62,000, but there are also some concerns with storm water runoff with this solution. "That one got a little more expensive than I was thinking," admitted Dan Koski, city engineer and streets superintendent.

• Encouraging members of the New Richmond Miller's baseball team and high school baseball teams to park near the Sports Center to free up spots for The Centre at peak times. Alderman Jane Hansen said the city needs to establish the "expectation" that team members will park further away so that prime spots will remain open for others.

• A new suggestion from neighbor Bill Driscoll is to construct a parking ramp or "deck" that would provide several levels for vehicles. The cost estimate for that option will be explored in the coming weeks.

Other potential solutions were eliminated from consideration due to higher estimated costs and other reasons. Among those rejected options were the purchase of a nearby home and converting it to a parking lot; conversion of Sports Center Road to one-way and opening up more parking spots; encouragement of carpooling for big events at all the facilities; and complete conversion of the green space south of The Centre to a parking lot.

Several traffic flow solutions were also discussed, but parking remained the focus of the group's debate.

VanWormer said traffic counts near the middle school, Centre and Sports Center weren't high enough to cause problems, except during special event times.

Traffic counts on Green Avenue were the highest (at about 970 trips per day), with the smallest being Sports Center Road (260 a day).

The city-appointed parking committee will meet again at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, to discuss the matter further. At that point the committee is likely to recommend one or more projects to help address the lack of parking available in that central neighborhood of New Richmond.

The recommendation would then be forwarded to the city for review and possible action.

New Richmond Alderman Jim Zajkowski said a big hurdle in the discussion will likely be the funding of any new parking options.

"Everybody expects the city to pay for all of this," he said. "The city doesn't have too much money."

Zajkowski said the City Council's view is that New Richmond can contribute its fare share to accomplish such efforts, but surrounding municipalities also should be expected to kick in some support because many of their residents benefit from the Sports Center and Centre, and will benefit from the future community center.

Right now, Zajkowski noted, only about half of The Centre's membership lives within the city limits.

"That's going to be the big question," Koski agreed. "Who pays for it?"