The NDDC wants you to join “The Conversation” on downtown parking management

SONY DSCHello, I’m Ross Currier, Executive Director of the Northfield Downtown Development Corp. (NDDC).  I’ve served with the NDDC for the past eight years.  Prior to working at the NDDC, I was part owner of a restaurant, a financial manager at a property management firm, an asset manager at a bank, and a real estate developer for both a non-profit firm and a for-profit firm.

NDDCThe NDDC is based on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program.  The Program has four points: Organizing, Promoting, Designing, and Economic Restructuring.  Essentially, we bring people together to enhance the image, character, and economy of the downtown district.  A key aspect of our work is finding and implementing stakeholder-driven ideas and initiatives.

Assuring that people can get to downtown is a key to the district’s vitality.  Some come in a motorized vehicle, some come on a bicycle, and some come on foot.  Assuring that there is a place for their car, bike, or backside in downtown is also important.  I’ve been teased for my alleged “obsession” with bike racks, questioned about the need for benches, and, let’s say, “challenged” for my calls for more public parking.  I am undaunted.

In recent years, the City of Northfield has added a number of bike racks and benches.  In fact, they even installed two way cool bike repair stations.  In 2012, the City Council voted to expand public parking in the downtown.  Much to my personal happiness, the site they selected, Washington Street near 3rd Street, can also help to protect and strengthen the Northfield Public Library.

However, the new additions to the downtown public parking supply will barely begin to address the backlog of demand for parking.  Furthermore, as then-Councilors Betsey Buckheit and Erica Zweifel said to me, we can’t just keep building more parking lots year after year.

I’ll be the first to admit it, the “stars” of downtown are the retailers, restaurants, and service providers that fill our buildings and that parking, along with benches and bike racks, are really more of a support function.  It’s important to save space for the stars.

We need to come up with some ideas to help Northfield continue to assure that people can get to and stay in downtown through a variety of transportation options.  If the community continues to expand by the average of 250 people per year of the past decade, the challenge will only increase…and that’s only the people who live here.  There are also the people who want to work and/or play here…and they need “parking” for their cars, bikes, and backsides too.

We need your ideas and initiatives to help assure that people can get to and stay in downtown.  We’re talking a little longer term planning, say ten or twenty years, and a lot of community visioning.  At City Administrator Tim Madigan’s suggestion, we’re calling it “The Conversation”.

We, the NDDC, along with our partners from the City of Northfield, are currently thinking stakeholders, outreach, media, and meetings.  But, don’t wait for us, if you give us too much time we might develop a PowerPoint presentation.  So, just join “The Conversation” and share your thoughts with us and the rest of the community.

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17 thoughts on “The NDDC wants you to join “The Conversation” on downtown parking management

  1. Marsha Kitchel

    As a person who loves Northfield and who lives in the Washington Street apartment building housing 11 families and targeted for future parking space, I’m concerned the City will build dumb again. The Fifth Street parking lot could have been a three-level ramp. I’m hoping current decision-makers are more far sighted. To tear down or remove this house for a total of 22 additional parking spaces for downtown Northfield is, to me, the epitome of dumb verging on criminal.

  2. Ross Currier

    Marsha -

    Your comment is, in my opinion, really more at the level of the policy makers, the City Council. However, it also seems, again in my opinion, important to respond to you. Therefore, I will do my best; please understand that the observations or opinions are my own and do not necessarily represent the NDDC Board of Directors, the staff of the City of Northfield, and most of all, the Northfield City Council.

    - Based on my observations, the Council chose not to do a ramp because it would cost substantially more than surface parking.

    - The Council is not proposing to tear down the house. It is my understanding that the owner of the house is planning to move it and to maintain the rental units.

    - Based on the architectural drawing that I saw, there will be approximately 30 parking spaces created, which is a not an inconsiderable addition to a dense and critical part of downtown. I am hopeful that creating parking additional parking in this location will be helpful in retaining the public library in downtown.

  3. Ross Currier

    Marsha -

    Rereading my response to you, I realize that I was focusing on the technical questions in your comment. If I dig deeper than the questions, I realize that the biggest issue for you is your apartment.

    As I said earlier, it is my understanding that the private owner of the house is planning to move it. I have no more information on that subject at this time.

    Personally, I suggest contacting your Councilor, Suzie Nakasian to express your concerns and seek any available, additional information. The other “Downtown Councilor”, Jessica Peterson-White, has already publicly expressed concern about the residents of this building.

    Suzie and Jessica are both very smart people; they have also both proven very effective in pursuing their goals. I think they would be good connections for you.

  4. Marsha Kitchel

    Hi, Ross,

    I apologize if this is not the correct forum to state an opinion on future downtown parking space in Northfield. The blog led me to believe it was. And that the NDDC wanted to hear from people.

    Once this apartment building/house at 304 Washington is gone, by whatever method, there will be room for two more rows of cars. I look out my north-facing window and see 10 or 11 spaces to a row out there, depending on drive-thru spaces. (That would be true for the current south-facing parking spaces on the other side of the house, as well.) Kudos if they can come up with more, but it seems obvious to me that many, if not most, of any new spaces will be taken up by downtown employees. So I, you, and downtown businesses are all back to the question of where to put the vehicles of actual Visitors to our beautiful city.

    Of course it would have cost more to build a Fifth Street parking ramp instead of its surface-only parking, and of course it also will cost more today, at this location. I just hope there is someone smart enough to recognize the value, not just the cost, of doing so.

    Is the NDDC in the position of promoting downtown economic business growth/profits by lobbying the City of Northfield for sufficient parking — enough parking to allow a decrease in the very real frustration of finding parking spots by current and future customers?

    Maybe this isn’t how the NDDC works, but I can’t be the only person wondering.

    Thanks for listening (again:)
    Marsha

  5. Marsha Kitchel

    Ross, I missed your other comment.

    My main concern is not losing my home at this apartment, though that is a HUGE concern. My main concern is that it would be for naught, that dislocating 11 families for approximately 30 parking spaces (I cede to your higher count; I wasn’t taking into account spaces currently being used by renters’ vehicles) will do little to alleviate the frustration of customers and visitors trying to find a place to park.

    You are probably right that this is a City issue and not an NDDC issue. So I guess that means we will still be talking about parking ramps vs. surface lots 20 years from now:)

    Marsha

  6. Ross Currier

    Marsha -

    My understanding of our “charge” by the City Council was to focus on increasing leverage from existing downtown parking assets. The decisions as to whether or not to augment the downtown parking assets, or where and when and how to augment these assets, belong to the Council. Therefore, I am, right or wrong, kind of focused on existing parking.

    As you can see in my original post, I share your concern that a few dozen more parking spaces aren’t going to fully address a problem that has been growing for decades. Therefore, just sharing what was told to me by Councilors Buckheit and Zweifel and using your phrasing, we are looking at ways to increase the alleviation of frustration by better using existing parking. I guess the Council, City staff, and the NDDC are trying to make the very best possible of the existing situation.

    I am really glad that you are participating in this forum, whether you want to talk about parking spaces, parking policies, or alternative modes of transportation. You LIVE downtown. The people who live and work downtown, the people who spend at least 8 to 10 hours a day in downtown, are the ones who are really aware of the parking situation in downtown.

    Thanks much,

    Ross

  7. David Ludescher

    Ross,

    Northfield City Council members have been asked not to comment on the website based upon an opinion that doing so may violate the open meeting laws of Minnesota. I would like to suggest that you and/or Griff research this further. If city officials cannot participate, I don’t think we have have an effective discussion.

  8. Griff Wigley

    David, you can participate here informally, and two other councilors could chime in, too. A 4th would constitute a quorum of the council and since this particular blog discussion thread has not been announced ahead of time as an official city-related meeting, that could be seen as an Open Meeting Law violation.

    Hope that helps. I look forward to your participation!

  9. Ross Currier Post author

    David -

    Years ago, when I was on the Planning Commission, I found the then-staff’s interpretation of the Open Meeting Law as applied to electronic media questionable and frustrating. I would find your participation in this parking management discussion to be transparent and responsive.

    As I understand the Open Meeting Law, it’s to prevent a majority of the Council from having a private meeting at which they essentially make a decision. Directly engaging the citizens, asking questions and clarifying points well before the decision-making session, in a public forum would seem to me to be the opposite of this prohibited process.

    I believe that Tracy Davis and Alice Thomas did some exploration of this topic when it came up at the Planning Commission. Perhaps they might be resources for further discussion on what I agree with you is an important topic.

  10. Griff Wigley

    Ross, the ‘private meeting’ element is just one piece. The other is ‘unannounced meeting.’ This blog post discussion is unannounced, i.e., the City hasn’t announced a start and end date for it. So if 4 council members participate here, it could be construed as an Open Meeting Law violation. So that’s in part why I’m moderating all new commenters.

  11. Dean Kjerland

    David (Ludescher), on January 13, 2013 at 9:22 am, you commented that “Northfield City Council members have been asked not to comment on the website based upon an opinion that doing so may violate the open meeting laws of Minnesota.”

    Since this ‘experiment’ is an initiative of the City, perhaps part of the process is to explore the possibilities and limitations for participation by Councillors in such forums.

    So, it seems to me that, rather than this becoming a forum for each of us speculating on what we think the Open Meeting Law says in this matter, that we could benefit from learning from you:

    a) by what means (memo?) the Councillors were ‘asked not to comment’ and,

    b) might it not be more appropriate to have the City (attorney) do the legal research rather than asking the City-contracted sponsors of this forum take the lead?

    And then we can get on with the ‘Conversation”…

  12. David Ludescher

    Ross, Griff, Dean,

    It was a city attorney opinion. While I think the opinion is wrong, I can understand the caution of the city attorney. Plus, violations of open meeting law carry individual penalties for the official violating the law. So, those are two fairly large obstacles to overcome before commenting.

    If you have read Rob Hardy’s blog, you will notice that he got the same advice for school board members.

    So, Griff and Ross – I would encourage you guys to solve the problem for us councilors (and other public officials). The City Administrator is not bound by the same open meeting laws and he has the same or more means to explore this problem and find a solution.

  13. Griff Wigley

    Thanks, David. Can you forward the email from the City Attny to me via private email?

    I’m doing a series of presentations for the League of MN Cities and I’ll see if I can get them to help us out on this.

  14. Stephanie Carlson

    What if…we would actually enforce the 2 hour parking limit on Division Street. I work downtown and see the same folks parking ALL DAY on Division Street, and often I see cars parked downtown overnight. Just thinking that if we enforced the current parking laws, we might end up with a few more spaces for shoppers and visitors.

  15. Ross Currier

    Stephanie -
    Enforcing the the posted parking limits is a classic parking management technique. I’m looking forward to hearing from the retailers on any thoughts or concerns regarding the two hour limit.
    Thanks so much for joining the conversation,
    Ross

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