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November 6, 2013

CDC close to making decision on downtown parking issue

Members of the Royse City Community Development Corporation’s Board of Directors could be close to making a decision about the city’s downtown parking dilemma.

After a lengthy discussion on downtown parking at the board’s Oct. 22 meeting, a board member suggested that the group plan to make a decision on the issue at its next meeting on Nov. 26.

“I will bring you as hard numbers as I can get at the next meeting on all the parking options,” Larry Lott, executive director of the CDC, told board members. “At some point in time, we need to decide which one we want to pursue first and when we want to start looking at doing an incentive if, in fact, that’s what we want to do.”

Downtown parking dominated a discussion led by board member Richard Pense. Lott said he asked Pense to lead the discussion involving incentive-type “options and opportunities” the board could be thinking about.

Lott said incentive funds are used primarily to enhance economic development in the city. He said that includes using the funds to bring in new businesses and to help existing businesses grow. Parking is an appropriate expense, he said, because downtown businesses are affected by a shortage of parking facilities.

Incentive funds come from sales tax revenue, not property taxes.

Downtown parking became the key issue after Pense opened with comments about the need to develop a plan and prioritize projects. Board members also discussed a “circulation road” that could be built behind Scott Elementary School and ease accessibility problems to Royse City Health and Rehabilitation Center and Royse City Medical Plaza.

The focus, however, was on downtown parking.

“Do we still consider downtown parking a pretty high priority?” Lott asked board members.

Lott then described two options that had been discussed in previous meetings.

One possible project involves the area behind the buildings on the south side of Main Street.

“We’re looking at and we think — we think. It’s not a final deal yet — but we think it’s a possibility that if we wanted to go in and repave that, put wheel stops in, that we wouldn’t add a lot of parking spaces, but we could make it a more organized parking lot,” Lott told board members during their Sept. 24 meeting.

Based on what traffic engineers have reported, Lott said, a one-way road could be paved and striped from Elm Street to Arch Street. There would be head-in parking.

A $75,000 bid does not include additional lighting for the area.

Another option, Lott said, is the former site of the Norton Building which is owned by the city. He said that space could accommodate 24 parking spots — the most of any option.

“Positives are the city owns it, they can do what they want with it and make it happen quickly,” he said during the board’s September meeting. “Negative, it’s on the far east of town.”

The site is just east of 305 E. Main St., former office of Ginger Stephens CPA and future home of Hazel and Olive Boutique.

Work at the site, Lott said, would include taking up the slab and resurfacing the area with concrete. The cost would be about $76,000, plus lighting expense.

The project would add spaces, Lott said, but he questioned whether people would use them because they’re not in the heart of downtown on Main Street between Elm and Arch streets.

Board member Charles Houk questioned whether the downtown parking spaces were filled only on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Almost every night,” answered Paula Morris, manager of the Royse City Main Street program.

“What’s the deal with these lots at night?” Houk asked, referring to the parking spaces on Arch Street across from City Hall. “Are they open?”

The parking spaces are a block from Main Street.

Board member Clay Ellis said some people use parking spaces in front of his insurance business on Arch Street. Morris added that “some people” use the spaces.

Houk suggested the possibility of signs that would direct Main Street patrons to parking off Main Street.

”We’ve talked about directional signage to get people downtown, but we haven’t talked at all about signage to show people where they can park,” he said.

Along with downtown parking, board members have also discussed the need to find an affordable solution to accessibility problems the one-way service roads have created for Royse City Health and Rehabilitation Center and Royse City Medical Plaza. Both are located off the south Interstate 30 service road between Erby Campbell Boulevard and Lesli Drive.

Royse City visitors can reach the facilities by traveling through the neighborhoods to Lesli Drive, which will take them to the service road. The motorists then must turn right onto the service road, which is one-way for eastbound traffic.

A longer alternative is for motorists to drive to Fate, cross over I-30 via FM 551, then head back to Royse City on the interstate or service road.

There is a solution — a $682,000 solution.

During the CDC board’s Sept. 24 meeting, Lott said a solution would involve building a 30-foot-wide, one-way, concrete road off Erby Campbell Boulevard, behind Scott Elementary School and the nursing home. Just west of the nursing home, the road would head toward the service road.

“So, where would that come from?” Lott asked board members after telling them of the estimated $682,000 cost.

“If it served the entire community, that’s one thing,” Lott said.

But it doesn’t, Lott pointed out. It would serve only the people who are traveling to those facilities.

During the Oct. 22 meeting, board members did not discuss the possibility of paying the entire $682,000 from CDC incentive funds. They discussed the possibility of paying only a portion of the expense. They also discussed the possibility of bonds that could be secured by future sales tax revenue and paid back over a 20-year period.

“If we got $182,000 in private funds, would we go out for a $500,000 bond that would be paid back over a 20-year period to finish that project?” Lott asked.

“How much should the developer and people buying the land be accountable?” Ellis asked. “Some of it falls on them, too. I don’t know if I’d be a fan of bonding for something like that or not. It’s just debt and like you said, we have always been able to manage without it. As we continue to grow, we may have more needs and we have to. I just hate to do it.”

“I knew this would be an issue that would require a lot of discussion and we’re going to discuss this issue time and again,” Lott responded.

Lott mentioned that Pense had earlier suggested that the board have a plan.

“As Richard said, we need to have planned out what we want to do and how we’re going to do it, and not just be knee-jerk on all these incentive things” Lott said.

“It’s obvious that we have way more need than we have money, so it’s going to be our job to determine how the priorities should be set and then we start shooting them one at a time as they come over the hill. It would be nice if we could fix all of this at one time, but we can’t.”

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