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City weighs options for downtown parking landscape
MONROE - In an effort to appease a request for landscaping at the site of the former downtown ramp while ensuring the maximum number of parking spots will be available, Director of Public Works Al Gerber recommended a compromise.

Gerber discussed options with Monroe Common Council members during their March 21 meeting. Main Street Monroe and the Business Improvement District Board proposed beautification of the lot, which is scheduled for completion in May. Terra Construction of Madison is filling the ground before the space can be paved per city ordinance.

In January, Main Street Monroe's plans for an estimated $17,000 worth of work was presented to the BID Board. Members agreed it was a positive choice for an area lacking in aesthetics due to the appearance of the buildings no longer hidden by the decades-old parking ramp. Donna Glynn of Main Street presented the plans, which highlight a brick perimeter of trees and assorted plants and additional lighting.

Gerber said there are essentially three options for beautification of the former ramp parking lot. If the city chooses to landscape around all four sides of the lot, the total 68 stalls would need to be reduced. A 5-foot landscaped buffer would require angled parking, reducing the number of parking spots to 52 with a recommended length of 20 feet. A 4-foot strip around each side of the perimeter would allow for straight-lined stalls, but still reduce the number of spots to 63. It would also shorten each stall length to 18 feet.

Gerber said the Department of Public Works recommended another option. Rather than including landscaped buffers along each side of the perimeter, soil should be added along the south and west sides of the perimeter and along the back of the current standing building north of the lot, which houses State Farm offices.

A major reason for keeping landscaping away from the alley side of the lot is due to the existence of a number of tree roots and utility cables. Gerber said if excavation work were to be done there, a number of problems could arise when workers begin to move soil. This plan would also ensure 68 parking stalls could be painted into the space at the appropriate length.

Regardless of the plan, the 14 parking spots attached to the north side of the lot would be unaffected.

Gerber did not have estimates for the cost of the work from Terra during the meeting, but the company did provide numbers to him Friday.

In addition to the anticipated $496,000, Terra would provide top soil along parts of the lot's perimeter instead of concrete fill. The company provided an estimate of $2,500 for the soil work. The city has so far paid $280,000 for the demolition of the lot and subsequent work on the site.

Three signs indicating public parking would be placed around the lot. Gerber said the signs would cost roughly $1,200 each. Though the plans submitted by Main Street included a paver-based sign on the south corner of the lot indicating the space as free, public parking, Gerber said more input is needed from council on whether a similar piece should be considered.

Council members discussed whether it was financially prudent to update a site which could be demolished for construction of a new ramp in the near future.

Alderman Tom Miller, a proponent of a replacement municipal ramp, called on fellow members to recognize the reality of a new ramp timeline. Miller said it would take "at least two years" for a new ramp to be constructed and that development to make the parking lot more attractive is "needed now." Aldermen indicated they would continue discussion of options during their April 5 meeting.