Saline City Council is leaning toward adopting new two-hour parking limits in downtown city lots.
At a work session Monday, council heard Saline Main Street, which conducted a parking study in downtown Saline. Wally MacNeil, owner of Mac’s Acadian Seafood Shack, presented the findings to Saline City Council.
Mayor Brian Marl said that parking is an issue.
“At the current trajectory, we are going to have a serious problem. We need to be forward thinking,” Marl said.
There are 364 public parking places downtown, with 236 spaces in the public lot. Of those, 149 are currently listed as four-hour parking spots. Another 87 are all-day spots, MacNeil told council.
During peak times, lunch and dinner time, parking capacity is already an issue, MacNeil told council. A parking study shows that Lots 1 and 2 are mostly full around dinner time. Meanwhile, the all-day lot off McKay, configured for residents and employees, is mostly empty.
He expects the problem to be exacerbated with Smokehouse 52 opens.
“They’re going to have 45-50 employees to start,” MacNeil said.
MacNeil said that employees are a major part of the issue. The Main Street report said employees and residents are not using the all-day parking areas, which impacts businesses hours. MacNeil said that some businesses make it a priority.
“We (at Mac’s) make parking a condition of employment. But everyone is different,” MacNeil said.
Several representatives from downtown businesses attended in support of Saline Main Street’s report.
Bill Kinley, who owns several downtown properties, said that many downtown business owners feel constricted by lack of parking at peak times.
“If people come downtown Friday at 6:30 and can’t find parking two or three times in a row, next time they’ll find a place where peak demand is satisfied,” Kinley said.
Kinley said that 25 years ago, the city promoted the vitality of its downtown by purchasing pieces of property and developing parking lot 2, behind Mac’s.
“Right now, we need more. Part of that can be achieved on the northwest corner,” Kinley said, stating he totally agreed with Main Street’s recommendations.
MacNeil presented Saline Main Street’s recommendations.
- Reduce all parking lot hours from four hours to two hours, except for the all-day parking spaces, and enforce consistently.
- Change the street parking ordinance to allow parking on both sides of the street where necessary.
- Increase “all day” parking spaces and locate this expansion further away from businesses.
- Post all on-street parking as two-hour parking and repaint the spaces
- Post “customer parking only” signs for all spaces in lots 1, 2 and 4.
Short Term Recommendations
- Explore public/private parking cooperative agreements with downtown churches, the banks and Klingelnberg. (150+ potential spaces)
- Allow parking on Michigan Avenue in front of Saline Automotive (10+ spaces)
- Secure approval from Key Bank to lease their parking jobs (39 spaces)
- Enhance pedestrian-friend connections between businesses and parking lots (landscaping and wayfinding improvements)
Long Term Recommendations
- Reconfigure parking lot 5, the Key Bank space and private parking to maximize space and make areas pedestrian friendly – with emphasis on pedestrians.
- Purchase property with the intent to expand parking.
- Explore the building of a parking structure similar to downtown Plymouth
Polled by the mayor, council was mostly in favor of some of the short-term solutions – including the proposal to go to two-hour parking.
Two years ago, council increased the parking limits to four hours. But previously, the limits weren’t enforced. So, the relaxed limits actually clamped down on parking. No details were provided about how often enforcement was conducted.
MacNeil said employees know how to game the parking. He said that employees park their cars in the morning, go get lunch and then park in a new spot for the rest of the afternoon.
“We have to do something to change the behavior. The only way to do that is enforcement,” MacNeil said.
According to the Main Street report, the average person takes less than 90 minutes when shopping or going to a business meeting downtown. That’s why Main Street recommends two-hour parking on streets and near the businesses.
Enforcement is also key, even though MacNeil doesn’t relish the idea of his customers returning to their vehicles to find parking tickets.
“Every publication on downtown policy agrees that if you don’t have consistent enforcement, your employees will take over,” MacNeil said.
Mayor Marl, Councillors Dean Girbach, Janet Dillon, Jack Ceo and Christen Mitchell all expressed support for going to two-hour parking. Councillor Heidi McClelland said she thought the change might help some businesses.
“But does it hinder others?” she asked.
Councillor Linda TerHaar said she had questions about two-hour parking limits but did not articulate a position.
Councillor Girbach said his question was enforcement.
“How do we handle that?” he asked.
Councillor Ceo agreed.
“Frankly I was surprised the city went from two-hour parking to what we have now,” Ceo said. “There needs to be parking enforcement. I’m not sure we have the capacity to do that now.”
Ceo suggested paid parking could help offset costs of enforcement, but he noted that meters and kiosks often don’t even pay for themselves.
While Councillor Dillon agreed with two-hour parking, she wondered how much responsibility to the city has to help solve the parking problem for businesses who can’t keep employees out of customer lots.
“I see people with employee shirts on parking in prime spots. I see owners parking in prime spots. The city can only do so much,” she said
MacNeil said it’s hard to get all the businesses to enforce it with their employees. Kinley said he has 15 apartments at Merchant Square. He owns a parking lot on Hall Street. Employees park there in the day and tenants park there at night.
“It’s written in their leases that (tenants) can’t park in Lot 1 or on Michigan Avenue. But can I really enforce that?” he asked.
Councillors Dillon, McClelland and Mitchell stated they did not see the need to increase the short-term parking.
Whatever way council goes, Mayor Pro-Tem TerHaar said she wants the city to stick with it for a substantial amount of time. When council addressed the parking issue in 2015 it changed its position several times, creating confusion and undermining the eventual policy.
Looking longer term, Main Street presented a proposal to lease Key Bank parking space to expand Lot 5 and create landscaping and wayfinding elements to better connect the mostly unused lot with the business core.
Councillor Dillon asked if Key Bank had been approached with this plan.
“It seems like we’re putting effort into a project and we have no idea if it’s viable,” Dillon said.
Main Street Manager Riley Hollenbaugh explained that it was a long-term opportunity.
“So that when the opportunity is available, we’re prepared,” he said.
City Manager Todd Campbell said the city approached Key Bank about a leasing the lot ahead of the Michigan Avenue reconstruction project. Campbell said Key Bank wasn’t receptive to the idea.
Kinley called it a slap in the face.
“The City of Saline puts a lot of money in their accounts,” Kinley said.
Marl asked the city manager to again contact bank officials with the ideas.
“The City of Saline has historically done a lot of business with that branch. It’s an offer they should think about that would be mutually beneficial to them and the community as a whole,” Marl said.
There was also talk about partnering with the downtown churches for parking. In such a partnership, the city could use parking at certain times in exchange for maintaining the lots, for example.
Another idea that came up was a parking garage.
Former Councillor David Rhoads appeared before council to recommend a public/private partnership for a two-story parking garage with a basement. He said, including the roof, it would create four stories of parking and double downtown parking space.
“I don’t think we can afford to eat more ground level space with parking. We need more tax revenue-generating spaces,” Rhoads said.
Councillor Girbach mentioned the Plymouth parking structure as an example of a community looking ahead.
MacNeil asked the city to consider making parking part of its master plan and to think about ways to capture funds to address long-term issues.
Marl said the parking issue will appear on a city council meeting agenda as a discussion topic in September.