Urban parking pains

Permit-only parking near the Red Cow at 3624 W. 50th St. prompted a lawsuit.

The Red Cow owner is working with neighbors on a long-term solution, despite the litigation. Credit: Photo by Michelle Bruch

It’s a story playing out across Southwest Minneapolis: New shops and restaurants open up, find success, and provide neighborhoods with new amenities as well as new parking shortages.

One way to tackle the issue has been the establishment of “critical parking areas,” where the city issues 24-hour parking permits to residents and workers. The strategy gets mixed reviews.

In the Fulton neighborhood, residents successfully petitioned to create two blocks of critical parking on Drew and Chowen after the Red Cow restaurant opened on 50th Street. New signs installed this winter stopped non-permit parking from 4-10 p.m.

In response, the Red Cow filed a lawsuit in December and was granted a temporary restraining order, prohibiting the city from enforcing the parking restrictions.

Despite the lawsuit, the restaurant and residents were reportedly close to a parking solution at press time, though they weren’t ready to discuss the details.

“We had some of our worst weeks after the restrictions went into play,” said Red Cow owner Luke Shimp. He said there was a downturn in sales, and some patrons who had difficulty finding a spot said they wouldn’t return again.

In pursuit of a long-term solution, Shimp has joined a group exploring the possibility of a small area plan for 50th Street stretching from France to Lyndale. In addition to parking, the plan could cover issues like future development, zoning and neighborhood density.

“It’s always been a busy street, and it feels like it’s getting busier,” said Jim Tincher, president of the Fulton Neighborhood Association. “With the increased activity in this neighborhood, we want to get ahead of it.”

Council Member Linea Palmisano (13th Ward) said incoming venues like Agra Culture Kitchen & Press at 50th & Ewing and The Waters Senior Living at 50th & Chowen provide a big question mark for future parking needs. She is exploring the idea of a special service district in the 50th Street area, perhaps using new commercial tax assessments to create collective parking for the area.

“We know that critical parking is a tool we use very infrequently,” she said. “The reason it’s used so infrequently is it’s not always the best tool. … Parking is a dynamic problem, and we don’t want to just move that problem around.”

The idea is persistent, however. Resident-only parking on Calhoun Boulevard was discussed in February at the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council, stemming from complaints about parking at a premium in the neighborhood.

In the Uptown area, critical parking now extends to five blocks. City staff said they have received little feedback since the last critical parking area was enacted south of Lake Street on Knox, Girard and 31st Street (between Girard and Fremont) in mid-2012, signifying to them it must be working.

Jon Wertjes, director of the city’s parking and traffic services, said it continues to be difficult to find an open parking space in the area.

“The areas surrounding the CPA [critical parking area] were full of parked vehicles both before and after the CPA was installed,” he said.

The Emerson and Fremont blocks immediately south of Lake Street have used critical parking for nearly 15 years.

“Folks on blocks that have it, really like it,” said Scott Engel, executive coordinator of the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group.

In the past, Engel has heard businesses complain about critical parking streets sitting empty, while surrounding streets are full of cars. Another common complaint is that critical parking simply pushes congestion to surrounding blocks.

Parking was a factor in the closure of Joyce Church at 1219 W. 31st St. The church bordered critical parking blocks, making access particularly difficult for elderly members.

There is plenty of parking in Uptown for those willing to pay for it. In recent years, the Calhoun Square ramp added about 250 spaces and The Ackerberg Group built a 436-space ramp at the MoZaic tower on Lagoon.

Ackerberg Senior Vice President JoAnna Hicks said use of the MoZaic ramp increases every month, and it’s most heavily used Thursday thru Sunday. The tower was 100 percent leased in February, and Hicks expects to see more daytime traffic as a result.

“We are pleased to see how parking continues to be a really in-demand item,” she said.

The Uptown Row pay lot behind Darbar India Grill at Lake & Emerson is generally busy, but rarely fills up completely, according to developer Ross Fefercorn. The lot sits between two critical parking blocks, and Fefercorn said he’s noticed people parking further south to find free spots.

“The result can be that when returning to their cars after the bars close they take their inebriated behavior through the neighborhoods with them,” he said.

Fefercorn said customers often run into trouble with critical parking by misunderstanding the parking signs or missing them altogether.

Claire McRaith lives on a critical parking block on Girard between 31st and 32nd, and her friends often receive tickets because she forgets to warn them and doesn’t have a guest parking permit yet.

“The permit rule is so poorly marked,” she said. “It’s sort of like a racket for the city.”

McRaith did appreciate growing up with permit parking in St. Paul, where she lived a block off of Grand Avenue. Customers parked on her street constantly on weekends, she said.

“If there wasn’t permit parking, it would be really annoying,” she said.

At Hennepin & Franklin, the competition for parking has worried area businesses, prompting staff at Sebastian Joe’s to write to Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward).

The Burch Steakhouse on the corner provides valet parking, as well as 65-space and 18-space lots. The restaurant recently secured more parking from a business that closes in the evening.

But the popular restaurant continues to strain parking availability, according to the area neighborhood group. The concerns prompted plans for new parking restrictions on Hennepin Avenue.

“Lowry Hill wants healthy businesses, which means cars,” said Maureen Sheehan, president of the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association. “The changes were helpful, but it is an ongoing issue.”

At the Red Cow, Shimp is working with a nearby church to secure valet parking. He said urban areas need the right mix of residential and commercial parking.

“It has to be balanced for both entities to survive,” he said.