[Moab Sun News file photo]

Parking again dominated discussion in the city council chambers on Tuesday, March 10. The council held a pre-meeting workshop to discuss parking solutions for businesses on northern Main Street.

The regular meeting included a well-attended public hearing on a proposal to renegotiate the city’s agreement with the Utah Department of Transportation to use “Recreation Hot Spot” money to construct a downtown parking garage. Emotions were high as councilmembers spent hours discussing the nuances of project planning, community involvement, and visions for Moab’s future.

Main Street Parking

Parking on Main Street north of 400 North will be eliminated as part of a Utah Department of Transportation highway widening project scheduled to begin this month. City staff and elected officials have been working with business owners, residents, and UDOT to try to design dispersed parking areas that will serve businesses affected by the highway widening, while taking into consideration traffic flows at the nearby elementary school and the property rights of churches and other landowners in the area.

At the workshop, city staff displayed a proposed design in which Emma Boulevard, in the northwest corner of town, west of Main Street, is paved, and twenty parking spaces are created north of the Community Church. More spaces would be added on Maxine Avenue, south of the church. Minnie Lee would be paved and provide access onto Emma Boulevard from Main Street.

The city has already made land trade agreements with a private property owner to allow for a multiuse pathway that leads down Minnie Lee from the highway. A HAWK (high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon, similar to the crossing over Main Street in front of City Market) is proposed as a way for bike traffic to cross the highway from the multiuse pathway where it exists and will be continued on the east, or north, side of the highway, onto Minnie Lee.

Representatives from several churches in the area, as well as from Arches Real Estate Group, Poison Spider Bicycles, UDOT, and the school district all attended the workshop to bring up concerns from child safety and increased congestion during school drop-off times, to access for members to church parking lots, to access between proposed parking spaces and Main Street businesses.

Suggestions included one-way designations for various streets, changing the traffic flow at the elementary school, negotiating an easement for a pedestrian walk-way between Emma Boulevard and Main Street, moving the bike path highway crossing further north and abandoning the HAWK proposal, and changing UDOT’s highway widening plans so that parking can still be accommodated on one side of the highway.

UDOT representative Ryan Anderson assured workshop attendees that the highway widening designs are, at this point, not going to change, and they do not include parking on Highway 191 north of 400 North.

A few commenters noted Moab City’s frequent negotiations with Mike Bynum, a local business owner who has considerable holdings in the downtown area. Mayor Emily Niehaus emphasized that city interactions with this property owner were guided by a desire to help north Main business-owners, not as a special favor to any particular property owner.

“Moab City is very determined to create a parking opportunity for North Main Street businesses,” said Niehaus.

For the city to move forward with opening vehicular access from Main Street to Emma Boulevard through Minnie Lee, they must approach UDOT and ask if that idea can be incorporated into the highway widening project.

Parking Structure and transit system

Many citizens attended the regular Moab City Council meeting to voice their views on the proposed Downtown Parking Structure, a concept that has been under fierce local debate for several weeks. Councilmember Mike Duncan gave a presentation recapping the history of the Recreation Hot Spot funding and how the parking structure project was chosen. Duncan proposed halting the parking structure idea and considering a shuttle system as an alternative project that could be eligible for the hot spot funding.

Business owner Mike Bynum spoke in support of the structure. Bynum owns property and businesses in the immediate vicinity of the proposed location of the parking structure, leading critics to claim the project primarily benefits Bynum and few other Moab businesses. Bynum maintained his stance that the parking structure is a good solution for everyone who uses the downtown area.

“We need to identify where, when, and how we do something to address the downtown issues, because they really are a problem,” he said.

He cited a parking study that many have claimed shows there is no parking shortage in Moab.

“The downtown parking study that was done did show that there were challenges downtown,” he pointed out.

Local restaurant owner Wes Shannon spoke on behalf of a newly-formed “Downtown Main Street Alliance” of business owners. Shannon has engaged various businesses in the heart of downtown in a group he says will offer “a collective voice to the council, agencies and work groups involved in current and future Main Street projects.”

“We are against building a parking structure on 100 West,” Shannon said of the Alliance. He went on to say the group is in favor of slowing down traffic, creating signaled crosswalks at all intersections, pursuing options for dispersed parking and maximizing the efficiency of existing Main Street parking. The group also supports a 191 truck bypass, as well as a municipal shuttle service.

Ryan Bird and his wife Erin Bird – also restaurant owners on Main Street – also spoke against the parking structure.

“It does not support healthy, dispersed economic growth,” Ryan Bird said of the structure. “Why are we considering using a precious piece of land in the heart of downtown Moab to house cars when we can’t even house our own residents currently?”

Moab resident Greg Westfall cautioned the council that ending an agreement with UDOT was risky. They could lose the funding entirely, he warned, and be left on the hook for money that UDOT has already put into research and design for the project.

“If you terminate that agreement, you’re done, contrary to popular belief and what’s been said,” warned Westfall.

Matt Hancock, another Main Street business owner, called into question the transparency of the process that led to the parking structure project being chosen over other hot spot funding ideas.

“I’m still really unclear on how and when that consultation with Moab residents and business owners took place,” he said. Hancock has been outspoken against the project in previous meetings.

Shalee Bryant, Director of the Moab Chamber of Commerce, reported that a survey of Chamber of Commerce members showed that 62% of respondents were in favor of the structure, and implored the city to look to the future in planning for parking needs. A question from the council clarified that there were only 24 respondents to the survey.

Doug Sorenson, another Main Street business person, also opposed the structure. “Come wintertime, this parking structure will just be a great skate park for our kids,” he said, implying it will not be used for its intended purpose in the off-season.

Moab residents Kaki Hunter, Judy Powers, and Dottie Byrd each said they would prefer to see a public transit system to a parking structure.

Councilmember Duncan, with support from councilmember Karen Guzman-Newton, proposed a resolution to terminate the existing agreements surrounding the parking structure and return to the drawing board, convening a new hot spot committee to come up with a new project—he endorsed a valley-wide shuttle system that could bring workers from outside of Moab into downtown, as well as allow tourists to leave their cars at their hotels.

Councilmember Kalen Jones proposed an alternative resolution that instead suspended the contracts, also allowing for reconsideration of the project. Jones’ proposal also suggested hiring a consultant to help the community choose a project. Duncan is concerned this step would take too much time; he and Guzman-Newton say that UDOT officials have offered them six months to come up with a new project proposal other than the parking structure.

Emotional investment in this project is so intense partly because community members and council members see it as directing the future of downtown Moab and the character they want our town to have. Duncan fears watching Moab evolve from a “funky little town” that offers an escape from an urban landscape, to streets lined with tall buildings, making them feel like canyons.

Details about community involvement, transparency, and partnership with the County Council were all discussed, but no conclusions were made. After hours of heated debate, and attempts to revise the resolutions into a compromise on which everyone could agree, the council decided to table the discussion and to soon hold a special meeting to tackle it again.