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Council OKs parking referendum


August 12, 2014 | 04:04 PM
The referendum asking city electors for permission to build an elevated parking garage was approved 7-0 on Monday (Alderman Sturg Taggart was excused) by the Lake Geneva City Council with little debate.

But after more than two decades of discussion, argument and caviling, what else was there to say?

“There’s been a lot of discussion over the decades about this,” said Alderwoman Sarah Hill. “I think it’s prudent we allow the people to decide. It’s up to the people of Lake Geneva to put up … or be quiet.”

Of particular interest was the final not-to-exceed dollar amount, that falls just short of what many city council members considered the magic number of $7 million.

Because the parking garage project will cost more than $1.01 million, by city ordinance it must be approved by referendum, regardless of how the project is financed.

Alderman Bob Kordus said it was “quite a process” to get to that not-to-exceed number.

Both Hill and Kordus served on the city’s ad hoc parking garage committee with nine other residents.

It was the committee that reviewed all the possible costs and complications that could beset the parking garage project, to come up with a reasonable cost figure.

The goal for the city would be to actually spend less than that figure.

According to the draft wording in the city information packet and comments made during the meeting, the referendum question to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot will read, approximately:

“Shall the city of Lake Geneva … be authorized to spend an amount not to exceed $6,999.995 to construct a public parking structure … located at 818 Geneva St., which amount includes all costs to acquire lands and easements, relocate infrastructure, demolish existing infrastructure and to construct the public parking structure (with) funds from the Tax Incremental District #4?”

The referendum amount does not include the $55,000 the city spent on an construction consultant, Arnold and O’Sheridan, Brookfield, to help with the design and engineering, or the money spent on doing surface and soil surveys of the Geneva Street lot.

That money came out of the parking fund, said City Administrator Dennis Jordan.

The current push to at least get the parking garage on a referendum began last year with the completion of a parking study by Rich & Associates, Southfield, Mich.

Southfield found that during the peak tourist season, the city was about 350 parking spaces short.

The study found downtown parking so lacking, that tourists were parking in residential areas, complicating the lives of homeowners in the Maple Park area.

Rich proposed a parking garage in its draft report. Then, for unexplained reasons, removed it from its final report, only to have the city ask that it be re-entered as an alternative.

What’s certain so far is that the proposed garage would have four levels, with the first level about five feet below grade.

It will have an elevator and two stairwells.

Plans tentatively call for security cameras on every floor, up to nine camera total for the garage.

The building will be cast on site, rather than prefabricated. That will cause some complications, because the site is already a parking lot with 88 spaces.

However, ad hoc committee members said they preferred the onsite construction because of lower maintenance costs in the future.

If it’s built in the summer, it will mean finding a way to ease the loss of those 88 spaces.

If it’s built in late autumn or early winter, the building will have to be heated.

It will park at least 279 cars but could have up to 315 parking spaces.

Size will depend on the city’s zoning board of appeals.

Areas zoned downtown commercial business allow structures to be built from lot line to lot line, but also requires a 10-foot setback.

The only way around the setback is a variance from the zoning board of appeals. The city will set that up in the future.

However, the city plans to take the project one step at a time.

The next step is to determine what the building will look like. Lake Geneva architect Ken Etten of McCormack + Etten is already working on a façade that will match the appearance of the surrounding buildings in the business district.

Also down the road, but probably not until after the election, and only if the referendum question is approved, is an appeal by the city to the Tax Increment District Joint Review Board.

Composed of representatives from the school districts, the county, Gateway technical college and the city, it is up to the review board to approve an amendment to the city’s TIF district budget, to allow financing of the new garage.

If the joint board does not approve the budget amendment, then the project could not go forward.

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