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City says no to parking lot
The Monroe Common Council voted against demolishing the municipal parking ramp and replacing it with a flat lot during Tuesday's meeting. To order this photo, click here. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)
MONROE - The Monroe Common Council voted 5-4 Tuesday against demolishing the municipal parking ramp and replacing it with a flat 72-space lot.

Aldermen Chris Beer, Michael Boyce, Louis Armstrong, Tom Miller and Charles Koch voted against the resolution; aldermen Brooke Bauman, Reid Stangel, Richard Thoman and Jeff Newcomer were in favor of the flat lot. The option is one of three recommendations put forward by Rich & Associates in a parking study conducted in 2015.

Mayor Bill Ross said he requested the resolution, which specified the surface lot be built for an estimated $600,000, because a decision needed to be made. Ross said whether in favor or against the first plan, the three possibilities need to be moved forward. He added that time has passed without any decision being made on the parking ramp, which was evaluated by engineering firm Arnold & O'Sheridan and found to have notable structural issues in 2013.

Ross said he did not want another five years to pass with the city not making a decision on the ramp.

Rich & Associates provided three main choices for replacing the ramp. The parking consultants said they found the 72-space flat lot option would provide adequate parking for everyday purposes, but would not accommodate special event parking or if the area experienced 10 percent growth. A second option is a replacement ramp with 169 spaces available. Costs for the plan were estimated between $3 million and $4 million. The third recommendation is replacing the ramp with an identical, 212-space structure at a cost of roughly $4 million to $5 million. The study pointed to this option as the best to provide sufficient parking regardless of the time of year and to do so for "the future and well beyond."

The municipal ramp was originally built in 1965. City officials have noted that the safety risk it poses is a liability problem for residents who use it every day. The 212-space ramp has already been reduced to 169 stalls due to safety concerns.

Koch noted that the ramp had been neglected. However, he did not support tearing down the municipal ramp and said the request from Ross to do so was "surprising."

"It's a structure that serves the city well," Koch said. "I can't see a surface lot being good enough. To me, this doesn't make sense."

Armstrong echoed issues with tearing down the lot to be replaced by a flat parking lot. Miller agreed that infrastructure along the Square has been an investment for the city, so ample parking should be just as important.

"It's a sideways step at best," Armstrong said. "I don't think it's a signal we support the downtown area."

However, Bauman found the hesitation to move forward as going against the recommendation of the parking study.

"These people are experts," Bauman said. "They said we have sufficient parking with the surface lot. This was their recommendation."

Stangel said constituents had raised concerns over the cost of a replacement ramp, which he estimated would be $4 million borrowed and repaid by the city.

"A surface lot would serve the needs that we have now," Stangel said. "Everyone that's come to me has said "we don't want to pay for a parking ramp.'"

None of the four residents who spoke during public comment were in favor of the resolution either. Bob Duxstad told the council that he "found it disappointing" that recommendations from the Business Income District Board and Main Street Monroe seemed to have been disregarded, and that the resolution itself includes a misleading statement regarding the parking study recommendations.

"This is not a forward-thinking resolution," Duxstad said.

Other concerns brought up included a lack of space, how it would limit visitors' parking options in the downtown area and cause problems for residents who have limited availability during the winter months due to snowfall.

Ross said he hopes to keep the council moving to make a final decision. The next step will be to vote on a new ramp, which will have both a surface level and a covering that provides another level of parking. Ross said that option would cost roughly $4 million, which the city would need to borrow, but would allow for a structure that could accept an additional level be built if needed in the future.