The Highlands Community Building was filled with business owners and residents concerned over the parallel-parking plan that was presented at the Town Board meeting on Nov. 15. Not everyone at the meeting feels Main Street needs any improvements at all, saying it’s just fine as is. While others said that it looks like a “Walmart parking lot,” and needs more trees and greenery, but they want to lose as few parking spaces as possible when adding those trees. That debate can go on for three-thousand words and will be addressed in the near-future.
However, what is fairly-certain is that the vast majority of those present at the meeting strongly opposed the idea of having the center of Main Street facilitate parallel parking. Not only would it be a new way of parking along Main Street, but it would force drivers to parallel park on the left, which is new to some folks.
One may be running a scenario through their head wondering what parallel parking on Main Street would look like. Driving behind a car that begins to parallel park, soon another car is attempting to park in the spot in front of them, and then a third car is added to the mix up the road a bit. Meanwhile, no one has moved in several minutes, the intersection behind you is gridlocked, and people have started to look for an escape route.
Pictured below are an artist’s renderings of the proposed parallel-parking plan on Main Street.
Now you may be thinking, why did I not attend this meeting and explain to the decision-makers the mayhem that will ensue if this plan is approved? Worry not, the Community Building was packed with those willing to point out the impending catastrophe parallel parking would have on Main Street.
“I love the idea of adding greenery to Main Street, cool it off and add shade,” said Commissioner Amy Patterson. “The problem is the parallel parking on the left, which people can’t do. I love the concept, but it’s the parking on the left side that’s a problem.”
Cynthia Strain said that with the current parking situation on Main Street, she often sees examples of rude driving and that a parallel-parking plan would be a “disaster.”
David Wilkes agreed with Patterson that adding some greenery to Main Street would be an improvement, but the parking plan would not work.
“I’m all for trees on Main Street and it’s great to work on a plan for that,” said Wilkes. “I think the parallel-parking plan is a great plan to someone sitting behind a desk. They’ve never been to Highlands or been downtown on a Saturday. It would be an absolute mess to put parallel parking on the left side of Main Street.”
Comments made voicing similar objections to the plan go on for some time throughout the meeting. Some say leave Main Street as is, others say let’s add trees, but no one was in support of parallel parking.
So how did the parallel-parking concept come to be?
At the last Town Board meeting, Commissioner Eric Pierson was directed to submit the town’s plan to add planters along Main Street between 4th and 5th Streets to break-up the line-of-sight to the Department of Transportation for approval. The plan did not meet DoT standards because the bases of the proposed tree trunks were less than the minimum required 8-feet from the travel lane. Pierson asked the DoT to work up a plan that would meet the DoT’s requirements and they came up with parallel-parking on Main Street. Pierson was simply presenting the plan that the DoT said meets their approval to the Town Board and the public.
Why is time a factor in this project’s development?
Public Works Director Lamar Nix said the DoT is scheduled to resurface Main Street in April 2019, and the project to add planters and trees needs to be completed by Memorial Day (May 27). Commissioner Brian Stiehler said that a decision to seriously modify Main Street should be discussed and researched before being implemented and that the town may want to take its time before making any hasty decisions.
“I would rather take our time and determine the right thing to do,” said Stiehler. “I don’t want to be held to the DoT’s schedule.”
Thomas Craig thanked the town for trying to utilize this opportunity to improve Main Street by working with the DoT and appreciates that the board is moving quickly to come up with a reasonable plan.
“I want to commend the town for trying to do something better,” said Craig. “They have a hard deadline and they have to move. I’m not going to say this is the best thing I’ve ever seen, but I don’t want to waste an opportunity searching for perfect.”
Mayor Pat Taylor said he hears what the public is telling the board and more options need to be looked at, and those in attendance started voicing them. One idea was from Bob Mills who said greenery could be added, the plan could meet the DoT standards, and still make efficient use of parking.
“We could add a tree and then make either side of the tree motorcycle parking,” said Mills.
The next step is for the Land Use Committee to meet with the DoT at 1 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 26, at the Community Building to try and figure out alternative parking plans while meeting all of DoT’s criteria and accomplishing the Town’s goals of adding greenery with a minimal loss of parking. The public is welcome to attend the meeting. Taylor said this meeting is not a town forum, but as three commissioners will be present (Pierson, Buz Dotson, and Donnie Calloway), it’s a standing committee meeting.
In other business:
- The Board went into closed session to discuss the Town’s fiber-optic contract. Taylor said after the Board reconvened in open session Commissioner Patterson made a motion to call for a Public Hearing at the regular scheduled meeting on December 13, 2018, to go to the LGC to secure funds for the fiber grid build out for smart city technologies, which was seconded by Mayor Pro Tempore Pierson and the vote was unanimous. The bid to build the aerial portion of the broad band network is $4.6 million dollars. Taylor added that the plan remains to build this fiber network without any tax increase to Highlands residents.
- Smart bear resistant trash-cans along Main Street were discussed and Dotson said he had heard of a company that offers electronically monitored bear-resistant cans that run at a cost of approximately $1,300 per unit with a monitoring fee of $50 a month. The board agreed to have the company come in and give a presentation on this smart option to help remedy the problem of bears tearing through trash cans along Main Street.
- Sallie Taylor presented the board with the idea of Highlands becoming a Blue Zone. Blue Zones are areas where people have more longevity and are encouraged to live a healthier lifestyle. She asked the board if they would participate in a presentation to learn more about the benefits of becoming a Blue Zone. The Board’s consensus was that they are open to the idea and are willing to learn more about it.
- The town approved to rezone the parcel that is Cottages on 4th, from a split B-4 and R-2 to entirely R-2.
Article and photos by Brian O’Shea
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