There are a handful of people who decided to take a gamble early on that downtown would one day become an attractive place to live.
These residents believe – with some substance backing their claim – that they took that risk with the understanding that the city would give them free parking.
The question now, many years later, is whether the city can and should find a way to exempt these early arrivals from a move to raise parking fees for decks and surface lots downtown.
Ray Gronberg reported in Friday’s Herald-Sun about the tangled history involving early downtown residents, promises about parking and past measures that have affected the rate structure. To say the history is complicated and murky is an understatement; it includes omissions from fee resolutions in the past of specific mention of free parking for these residents. It also includes a $10 fee that was adopted in 1999 that officials discovered in 2004 had apparently not been applied to all residents.
We appreciate that Marcia McNally, spokeswoman for the residents, acknowledged that the downtown pioneers believe they should be paying something for parking, and that they know they cannot park for free forever. The residents argue that the proposed parking fees now, though, would occur too quickly and are too high given security concerns and street quality.
Be that as it may, the crux of the issue is what City Attorney Patrick Baker initially brought back to the City Council: Grandfathering in early residents could lead to legal issues down the road. Finding a loophole, as suggested by Councilman Eugene Brown, doesn’t seem like a prudent route. Nor does brushing off the idea that someone might decide to sue over parking.
We wholeheartedly agree with Councilman Don Moffitt’s observation that a lawsuit is as close as the next big developer of downtown residential property who wants to get discounted parking.
There may be middle ground with phasing in the parking fee increases. We hope downtown longtime residents will entertain this notion.
But whether continuing to give breaks to a small group – even one which deserves a great deal of credit for helping downtown revitalization gain momentum -- is the best course of action for the city seems fairly clear cut, regardless of whether Baker can indeed find a loop hole.
It puts the city at risk for legal troubles that would be costly, which it seems should be the council’s responsibility to help safeguard against.