Editorial: Three-part effort needed to solve parking lot problem

By on January 26, 2013

Last week, we used this space to clarify the difference between editorial writing (which includes our opinion) and news writing (which does not).

We also shared our opinion on the closure of one of Elburn’s downtown businesses, and alluded to our opinion on what we feel is the primary cause for that closure: the downtown Elburn parking lot issue.

It would be easy to point the finger at one person or entity and say that he, she, or they are the reason downtown Elburn faces an additional struggle, beyond the general economic climate, due to the lack of adequate parking.

It would be easy to lay the blame solely at the Community Congregational Church’s (CCC) feet for closing the lot they privately own. It would be just as easy to point the finger at the village of Elburn for declining to purchase the lot and keep it open for downtown parking. It is also easy to blame the downtown businesses themselves for not being able to provide their own parking.

In fact, in the Jan. 10 edition of the Elburn Herald, Village President Dave Anderson expressed that point of view.

“If you’re going to open a business, it’s your responsibility to provide parking for that business. That’s not just Elburn, it’s everywhere,” he said. “In downtown Geneva, basically, the only lots that they have that the city owns are the ones by the train station. They have the on-street parking obviously, but everything else downtown are privately owned lots.”

As the former longtime owner of The Grocery Store in downtown Elburn, he should have a more realistic opinion of the situation, in our view. He knows well that the buildings in downtown Elburn, on the east side of Main Street, were not built with adequate parking behind them. In Geneva, the lots behind the downtown business exist because there was space to include them. In that part of downtown Elburn, there is no space to provide additional parking.

Besides the municipal lot located a block off Main Street, and the private lot owned by one downtown business, the east side of downtown has enough room for about six parking spaces. To enter the downtown businesses from those spaces, a customer would have to either enter through the back of the business, walk through the closed parking lot, or walk around the block to get back to the front of the downtown businesses.

Given that, even if, theoretically, downtown businesses should be responsible for providing their own parking, it is not physically possible to do so.

If the businesses themselves cannot add parking possibilities at their respective locations, then the following questions must be answered:

1) If the situation remains unchanged, is there adequate parking in downtown Elburn?
Obviously, if the answer to this is “yes,” then there is no issue and everyone is happy.
We know the answer to this question is not “yes,” because if you ask the downtown businesses (as we did), you will find overwhelmingly that those businesses need more parking in downtown Elburn.

2) Who is responsible for providing the additional parking?

The answer to this remains unclear. Even though CCC owns the currently vacant parking lot in downtown Elburn, it should be obvious that they have no legitimate responsibility to provide the downtown with parking.

All that is left, then, is either the village or the downtown businesses.

Our view is that the answer to that question is “both.”

We think the village should be supportive of all of its communities, and that includes its downtown business district. This is both a sound philosophy in general, as well as having a purely financial element.

Financially, the more successful Elburn businesses are, the less tax pressure is felt by the village’s residents.

Similarly, the downtown businesses should be engaged in the situation and willing to help the process along (and we know they are, having been one of them for years up until our recent move to the Elburn and Countryside Community Center).

This means that both entities have a role to play.

Like just about everyone, the village continues to face a budget crunch as the economy continues to struggle. It is unfair to expect the village to simply purchase the lot in order for it to remain open for the downtown business’ benefit. This would, in effect, require every Elburn taxpayer to subsidize the downtown business district.

In a time where every dollar counts, this alternative does not seem feasible.

What does seem feasible is a group effort in which the village provides the structure and administration, the downtown businesses provide the funding, and the church provides the openness to an alternative that may not be a simple outright sale of the property.

Each of the three entities—the church, the village and the group of downtown businesses—will have to be willing to come to the negotiating table with something to offer.

The church needs to offer a willingness to work out a solution that may not mean they get to sell the property outright, or at least not sell it at the value currently listed.

The village needs to offer a willingness to be engaged in the process in a real way—which means beyond the village president saying the village is not interested in helping find a solution, and beyond having a representative organize a couple of meetings (one of which a village representative did not ultimately attend, which forced members of the Elburn Herald to attend in their place, asking for and ultimately obtaining a delay in the parking lot closure).

If the village president continues to hold firm to the view that the village has provided adequate effort to secure enough parking for downtown, and that whatever else is needed is solely the responsibility of the businesses themselves, then it is time to bypass the village president and attempt to work directly with the members of the village board to find a solution. If a workable solution is available, enough votes on the Village Board makes the village president’s opinion irrelevant.

If the other two of the three parties bring their respective pieces of the puzzle to the table, then the downtown businesses need to be willing to come with money in hand.

How much money and paid over what length of time would need to be determined, but the only way forward is for downtown businesses to be willing to pay for that lot.

Maybe the village can create a TIF District or some other funding vehicle, but no matter the structure of a deal (the village’s part in the process), the acceptable terms of a deal (the church’s part in the process), the downtown businesses are going to have to be willing to pay for the deal (their part in the process).

Anything short of that, and the amount of progress made in the past several months will continue to be the amount of progress made in the future—none.

When the Elburn Herald was among the group of downtown businesses, we offered to contribute to the group effort. We know for a fact that others did, as well. More recently, Randy Ream of the Elburn Market put in a bid on the property outright, which met the church’s approval. All that remained was jumping through the hoops presented by the village’s codes and requirements, which proved to be insurmountable. Because of that, Ream pulled out of the deal, and the situation remains the same as it has since the beginning.

That dynamic will need to change if any progress is to be made.