City council splinters over parking kerfuffle

Highway widening project concerns North Main businesses that will lose on-street parking

City of Moab efforts to lease the parking lots of three Moab churches situated near North Main have gone nowhere as looming Highway 191 improvements will put an end to on-street parking from 400 North to the Colorado River bridge. They have in part, however, led to hard feelings and accusations of shady dealing. Photo by Doug McMurdo

A somewhat angry vibe permeated the normally less contentious Moab City Council chambers Tuesday during a discussion on the city’s long-term plan for dispersed parking — particularly as it relates to businesses between 400 North and the Colorado River bridge — and the impending Highway 191 widening project.

Mayor Emily Niehaus said several conversations have been held regarding the issue as North Main Street businesses are concerned what will happen once the Utah Department of Transportation project begins and Main Street parking from 400 North to the bridge becomes prohibited during and after construction.

Allegations also have been leveled against the city claiming it has not been transparent in discussions regarding dispersed parking along Emma Boulevard and the potential leasing of three church parking lots.

Niehaus said she met with North Main businesses a year ago and promised she would “work diligently to make sure there was some kind of parking if they lost Main Street parking.”

She said the city first looked at using State Hotspot funding — part of the $10 million UDOT provided to address the impacts of tourism on Moab and certain other Utah cities and towns.

The mayor said there was a “question of transparency” and wanted to discuss the city’s efforts to develop parking on public and private property.

Council Member Karen Guzman-Newton owns Poison Spider Bicycles, one of the North Main businesses that will be affected by the widening project. Store Manager Scott Newton has publicly alleged the city has been less than clear in its efforts to improve the parking problem, which is “a plan of last resort,” according to City Manager Joel Linares.

Linares said he and city staff reached out to three churches near Emma Boulevard to discuss leasing in 20-year terms their parking lots on every day but Sunday and on days the church would need the space for funerals, weddings and other functions.

The Moab Baptist Church and the Community Church of Moab declined to negotiate, he said, but the Moab Church of Christ did agree to enter into preliminary discussions before the congregation rejected the deal over concerns of “safety, security and Sunday services.”

“The church ultimately said no, and that’s when we started looking at other public places,” said Linares, who added entering into a lease with one or more of the churches would have provided “more bang for the buck.”

Linares said he was still open to working with the church, which brought up another issue everyone agreed was critical: Making a shortcut on the Church of Christ property a legal easement, as pedestrians have been using it for years to get to the Maverik. Council Member Kalen Jones said negotiating for the easement would be a good idea. Council Member Mike Duncan said it is a critical issue.

“I’m happy to meet with the churches again,” said Linares. “I’m happy to meet with the congregation. Whatever it takes.”

One option was to make public rights of way parking lots Linares faced criticism over leveling work that was done on Maxine Avenue Feb. 20, three days after doing so was discussed during an informal meeting on President’s Day. Not everyone received the memo, apparently, and another accusation the city was not operating in the light of day was alleged.

Linares said all future meetings would be public and recorded.

The plan for Maxine is to put down a coat of chip seal and parking stall striping for a cost of about $50,000, according to City Engineer Chuck Williams.

Other potential parking spots could be equally problematic as myriad property owners are involved. One is off 100 South and another is at 100 East, a possible RV parking venue at a lot between the Best Western and Rustic Inn properties. Another is property owned by the Post Office, Wells Fargo, and The Times-Independent, including the alley that runs between East Center and 100 North.

Another proposal calls for limiting parking time on Main Street south of 400 North to two or three hours. “It’s worth investigating,” said Jones, who noted daylong parking on Main Street isn’t good for commerce.

Niehaus was assured the City Police Department is fully staffed and an officer could be available for enforcement.

More answers might be found March 10 when the city will hold a workshop on dispersed parking and will, as Council Member Rani Derasary suggested, cast a wide net to make sure as many of the involved parties as possible are in attendance.

The city council at that meeting could later vote on potential dispersed parking plans and it will also entertain a proposed resolution to cancel its goal to build a more than 200-space parking structure on 100 West, where the city has a public parking lot.