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Desperately seeking parking spaces

By Chase Olivarius-Mcallister Herald staff writer

Great metropolises often confront stubborn social problems.

While New York City officials have made terrific strides lowering the city’s murder rate, Durango’s parking crisis is worsening.

According to interviews with downtown residents, employees and business owners, metered parking on Main and East Second avenues is placing inordinate pressure on Durango’s nonmetered parking options, including residential streets and private lots – and sucking money from many working folks’ pocketbooks.

To Bob Romero, owner of Rufe’s Paint Store in Town Plaza, Durango’s parking shortage, always acute, is fast becoming unbearable.

“I was born here, so I know parking has always been a problem. But it’s gotten much worse in the last five years,” he said. “Down here, this is private parking – we’re a shopping center. But we’ve had to hire an attendant to watch our parking.”

Romero is accustomed to Durango Joe’s customers encroaching on his parking spaces. But theirs aren’t the vehicles clogging up the lot, he said.

It’s Main Avenue customers and employees who have become newly aggressive, parking for hours in Town Plaza’s free private lot as they run errands or work shifts downtown.

Town Plaza business owners refer to these meter refugees as “poachers.” These days, it is Russell Amidon’s job to stalk Albertsons and Town Plaza’s private parking lots, looking for “poachers.”

Amidon, who carries a piece of chalk and keeps a fastidious notebook, prides himself on being reasonable – a Town Plaza customer might park for several hours as she goes grocery shopping, gets her hair done and lunches at Oscar’s Cafe.

But Amidon said the Durango’s lack of adequate parking options has poachers leaving their cars in the Albertsons or Town Plaza lots for eight hours at a time as they shop on Main Avenue, appear for court, enjoy a meal or walk the Animas River Trail. He’s issued some cars repeated courtesy tickets, which do not involve a fine but do include a strongly worded warning. Amidon said some particularly willful cars have been impounded.

Parking drought?

The shortage of parking puts business owners with private lots – and even private spaces – in a delicate position: They do not wish to alienate potential customers and often sympathize with busy residents who just need a caffeine fix.

Jenna Arnold, owner of Cold Stone Creamery, has four parking spaces for customers in the tiny private lot at Main Avenue and College Drive – the city’s busiest intersection. She said her lot is besieged in the mornings.

“I particularly don’t mind if you need to run into Starbucks, or you pop your head in and ask whether it’s OK – I get that,” she said, noting the utter absence of other nearby parking options. “But we pay a lot of money monthly for those four parking spaces so our customers can come in. It would be nice if there was a city parking lot, so people who need to go and park all day could do that.”

While people frequently come into her shop asking her to make change for the city’s meters, Arnold said the city seems indifferent to the problem its parking policies have created for business owners like her.

Indeed, the city’s impression of downtown parking is starkly at odds with residents, business owners and employees’ anecdotal experiences.

Roy Peterson, the city’s director of general services, said the city has conducted an analysis of parking vacancies in the Central Business District and found that Durangoans have a walking problem, not a parking problem. He said open spots usually can be had just a few blocks from someone’s specific downtown destination.

“Most downtown patrons desire to park exactly where they want to shop. That’s not always possible,” he said.

In a phone interview Tuesday afternoon, he said he was looking northward in the parking lot of Durango Transit Center, where there were six spots open and one taken.

Peterson said the city has always had a plan for building a downtown parking structure, but it would cost $12 million to $14 million.

“The funding for it is next to impossible,” he said. “It won’t be built in the near future by any means.”

He said employees who park “in front of the businesses where they work are taking up valuable customer space.”

“That’s the first problem, and we’ve had that problem for a number of years,” he said.

But downtown employees say the parking problem is so bad that parking at a metered spot often is the only option.

“It’s absolutely horrible,” said Jen Rylko, manager of Guido’s Favorite Foods. “We have to pay to park as employees. I go through five to six dollars a day on parking. You can’t ever find a free spot on Third or Fourth Avenue, and sometimes you’re running late.”

She said the deficit of parking options affects much of the restaurants’ staff. Few downtown employees earning an hourly wage can afford the city’s $12 parking tickets. Yet a free parking space is so hard to come by that her colleagues, “are either constantly getting tickets or constantly running out to feed the meter.”

“I think the city should give us discounted parking,” she said.

Rylko said she would happily “hoof it,” meaning walk several blocks to work, if there were a free or inexpensive downtown parking structure.

Trouble in the neighborhood

The lack of a downtown city parking lot continues to raise discontent among residents of East Third and Fourth avenues, as people who work or shop on Main and East Second avenues leave their cars on the neighboring residential streets for the day.

David Grenoble, who lives on Third Avenue, said, “it’s been out of hand for decades.”

“Everybody downtown parks on Third Avenue,” he said.

The Third Avenue Boulevard Association, a neighborhood group, frequently has asked the city to issue residential parking permits.

“We’ve pressed them hard a couple of times in the 35 years I’ve lived here to give designated parking to the residents. Each time, they absolutely refused,” Grenoble said. “We’ve appeared before the City Council over and over, made speeches – and they simply will not do it.”

Yet, he said, government employees are responsible for much of East Third Avenue’s parking-related woes.

He said every weekday, government employees, many who work just a street over on East Second Avenue, treat his street like free public parking.

“There are parking meters on Second Avenue, but no parking meters on Third. So all the employees of the city, the county and the police department park here on Third,” he said.

Reagyn Germer, who lives on East Fourth Avenue, said she loves living downtown – except for last week, when she had to drive her sick daughter to the doctor’s office. When she returned to her house at 10 a.m., there was no parking on her street. She had to park three blocks away.

“I had to park all the way over on East Sixth Avenue, with a sick kid,” she said. “I’m not a curmudgeon, but when I have to unload groceries with my child, what am I supposed to do? Double park blocks away and leave my 5-year-old inside? I’d get arrested.”

Germer said the issue was particularly frustrating because policy fixes – including building a downtown parking garage and issuing residents parking permits for East Third and Fourth avenues – seem obvious. Glenwood Springs’ parking structure, she said, is “just awesome.”

“It’s brick, you don’t even know it’s there,” she said. “They use it to have the farmers market when it rains. We couldn’t use that?”

Downtown employees, she said, shouldn’t have to plug the meter every hour or risk tickets that will wipe out an hour of their earnings.

“Everyone is working their (backsides) off to live here,” she said.

Karen Anesi, president of the Boulevard Association, said, “As long as residents shoulder the burden for everybody else’s benefit, neighborhoods aren’t a priority. Other communities all over the state – especially those that take pride in their neighborhoods, have solved their parking crises,” she said, pointing to Boulder.


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