Thursday, December 18th, 2008
By William Kincaid
Retailers object to parallel parking
  The majority of Celina downtown merchants at a meeting Wednesday night spoke out against a proposal to switch to parallel parking on the city's Main Street.
More than 50 concerned business owners and residents packed the conference room of the city's water treatment plant to discuss the forthcoming Main Street reconstruction project.
As the city will use a combination of grants, including a $700,000 safety grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation, there are certain engineering specifications that must be met, those in attendance learned.
The city's current 45-degree angled parking is not in compliance with the state, Celina Planning and Community Development Director Kent Bryan said. Among other things, the city must eliminate all spots within 30 feet of intersections.
Currently, the city has 158 parking spots over eight blocks. No matter whether the city chooses parallel or angled parking, the number of parking spaces will be reduced due to state requirements, Jared Ebbing, an engineer with Fanning/Howey Associates, Celina, said.
Angled parking - in compliance with state regulations - would result in 139 spots while parallel parking would result in 111 spaces.
For example, the half block in front of Wilson Shoe Store now has seven spots. That would be reduced to five spaces with angled and four spaces with parallel.
If the city chooses to remain with angled parking, the city also would lose 4 feet of sidewalk in order to comply with state requirements. Ebbing said the city didn't want to burden business owners with a reduction of both parking spaces and sidewalk. The city must choose between the lesser of two evils, he said.
"Once concrete is pulled back, that's forever ... you give it up, you're done," Ebbing said.
But most property owners in attendance said they still wanted angled parking.
Bob Heitkamp, owner of Gamarama at 121 S. Main St., said his primary concern was parking access in front of his store, not the sidewalk.
Heitkamp said he contacted 24 business owners, 23 of whom were against parallel parking. He also said all 24 thought parallel parking would be bad for business.
Ebbing said a survey based on just that one question, without taking the whole picture of Main Street into context, may not be representative.
Others said they were concerned about customers not wanting to parallel park or being able to find a spot in front of their stores - one of the main attractions of downtown shopping.
Frank Snyder, publisher of The Daily Standard, questioned the ease of parallel parking, pointing out the state doesn't even include it in its driving test anymore.
However, that comparison is not apples-to-apples, Ebbing said. Celina's parallel parking would not be like traditional parking as the spaces would be 22 feet long, he said.
Another man questioned if the city should even collect the state's $700,000 safety grant - to install new traffic signals at seven intersections - if it has to comply with its street and parking requirements.
Ebbing replied that the state could come in at any time and require Celina to comply with state parking requirements, whether it accepts the grant or not.
Ron Amstutz, who said he owns buildings on Main Street, was one of two people who openly supported parallel parking.
Amstutz said Celina must have a more attractive and viable downtown like other municipalities visited on a recent city bus tour.
"This is not something that is going to go away," Bryan said about the parking situation, pointing out it has been a problem for decades.
Bryan said he is confident the city can work with the state to lose the least amount of sidewalk as possible and have either angled or parallel parking.
Celina was awarded the $700,000 ODOT grant because it was determined to have a large amount of accidents, primarily from downtown parking.
No action was taken by city councilors at the meeting.

Downtown plan:
The Main Street reconstruction project in Celina will take six to seven months to complete, with downtown traffic and access to stores open at all times, Celina Planning and Community Development Director Kent Bryan said.
Bryan talked about the timeline of the estimated $3.4 million project at a public meeting Wednesday night.
The city intends to bid the project out in March 2010 and award a contract the next month. Construction should begin in May 2010 and continue into the fall, Bryan said.
Spanning from Lake Shore Drive to Livingston Street, with a possible extension of work to Fulton Street if additional funding is secured, Main Street will be completely rebuilt.
"This time we're going down all the way through the bricks," Bryan said, adding the original brick street will be removed and a foundation established.
Also, new curbs, sidewalks, a main water line, decorative street lighting and new traffic signals will be installed.
During construction, half of the street will be worked on at a time, though specific details are pending, Bryan said. Two lanes of travel will be open and customers will always have access to businesses, which will at least have some kind of stone pathway in front, he said.
Bryan said he was startled when he heard a rumor that the project was to last two years.
Also, city officials have no intention of creating a situation like that in Van Wert, where during a similar reconstruction project a section north of its downtown was completely shut down.
Many of the existing sidewalks will be torn up to bury electric lines underground as part of a $700,000 safety grant from ODOT. The grant also covers the costs to put up new traffic signals at seven intersections - Logan, Market, Fayette, Livingston, Warren, Fulton and Wayne streets.
New computerized control boxes for the lights will replace the current outdated equipment. With a new control system, the city will be able to create a better traffic flow through the synchronization of lights, according to Bryan.
- William Kincaid
Additional online stories for this date
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