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Dunedin takes action on downtown parking option
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Dunedin commissioners will address downtown parking at their Sept. 17 meeting.
DUNEDIN – City commissioners debated over a proposed downtown Dunedin parking option Sept. 17, expressing mixed opinions on what they want staff to pursue in the plan.

Nevertheless, after more than three hours of discussion, city commissioners voted 3-2 to ask staff to further refine a proposal to explore a public-private partnership involving a parking garage off Douglas Avenue to increase the downtown parking stock.

The commission’s action, based on the motion made by Commissioner Deborah Kynes, also asked staff to include a paid-parking component to create a revenue stream for parking needs and use proceeds from a settlement with BP stemming from the company’s 2010 oil spill to help fund the partnership.

“I think in part of all this mix there has to be some sort of paid parking bridge to the future,” Kynes said.

The staff’s new option, city memos say, called for a portion of funds from a BP oil spill settlement, about $1.9 million, to be used for a period of time. Free parking would be maintained.

The measure would pay for two new surface parking lot leases, and a public-private partnership would retain and increase downtown parking by about 317 parking spaces.

After a three-year period, the Community Redevelopment Agency, through increases in revenue as a result of new projects on the tax rolls, would assume the leases of the private property lots, as well as the lease and maintenance costs of a vertical parking garage created by the partnership.

A key element of the new option is the proposed 175-space garage between north Douglas Avenue and the Pinellas Trail north of Main Street. The property is expected to have a mixed-use project on it late next year.

Both Commissioners John Tornga and Heather Gracy expressed concerns about committing proceeds from the BP settlement to staff’s latest proposal. Tornga said the commission hadn’t discussed how they plan to use the money.

Commissioner Bruce Livingston was adamant that the commission’s action should include paid parking to build a revenue stream for a second parking garage that’s under consideration. He noted that it could be used for a bond issue. Gracy agreed on the need for the revenue stream.

“I just think it’s shortsighted. If we don’t have a revenue component now, it’s going to push that next project way out,” Livingston said.

Joe Kokolakis, developer of the mixed-use project, said 90 parking spaces will disappear during the construction of his project over a year’s time.

“If you implement paid parking on Main Street at the same time you take away the 90 spaces on Douglas, you may have something you don’t anticipate,” he said.

Those factors, Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said, is why staff is recommending against a paid parking plan at this point. She repeatedly praised staff for their creative approach addressing the parking problem and asked commissioners to accept the staff’s recommendation.

“At 12 o’clock at night, to go against completely what staff has recommended, and do something completely different, I don’t think is a responsible thing to do,” she said.

She asked for a separate motion on a paid-parking component that could be addressed by staff and brought back for commission action at a later date. Her request didn’t get support from other commissioners to change Kynes’ motion.

As commissioners debated staff’s options, City Manager Rob DiSpirito said commissioners had made reasonable requests for information and that staff would work quickly in giving them a date for when they could provide it to them.

“I’m hearing clearly we want an aggressive pathway to not one but to two garages,” he said.

Livingston and Gracy supported Kynes’ motion. Tornga and Ward Bujalski voted against it.

Some residents and representatives of organizations also spoke on the latest parking plan.

Lori Badders, chairwoman of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, praised city staff’s creativity through the planning process.

Residents, business owners, employees, volunteers and visitors have different agendas, and city staff has tried to develop a plan that suits as many people as possible, she said. The chamber board of directors met Sept. 17 to discuss it.

“What we like about this plan is the parking situation with a parking structure will be addressed in the short term,” she said. “We also like the enforcement of parking times and establishment of short and long-term parking areas. We need to encourage turnover in the most desirable spots while allowing for longer term for use for employees and trail and trolley users.”

She said the chamber board is pleased that staff came up with a method to keep parking free. A paid parking management system may be addressed later, and the chamber would be happy to examine the options and provide its input, Badders said.

Greg Brady, who chaired the Downtown Parking Advisory Committee, said he had worked on similar committees since about 2005, and he sees the plan as a “Band-Aid solution.”

“So I think moving forward the revenue stream still has to be considered,” Brady said.

If city officials engage in another public-private partnership, they won’t have the BP settlement money to help fund it. He added that he thinks the Keller property is an ideal place for a parking structure.

“But I think we do need to continue to keep our focus on the long term,” Brady said, “because looking on the short term is what got us here to begin with.”
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