City rehashes Pekin Street parking lot decision

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[July 04, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday evening, the Lincoln City Council revisited a decision made in May to drop the plans to renovate the Pekin Street library and community parking lot in Lincoln.

When the vote was taken on May 18th, five aldermen - Tracy Welch, Steve Parrott, Kathy Horn, Jonie Tibbs and Rick Hoefle, voted ‘no’ and three aldermen - Michelle Bauer, Jeff Hoinacki, and Todd Mourning, voted ‘yes.’ At that point, it appeared that nothing at all would be done in the parking lot, as no suggestions were made to visit an alternate plan.

This week, the topic was back on the agenda with the same renovation and re-design plan as was voted in May.

The discussion was opened with remarks from City Administrator Clay Johnson. Johnson reviewed previous actions on the project. He said that the project had gone out for bid on three occasions. The first two biddings had been rejected; the first due to high cost and only one bidder submitted, the second being due to the bid coming in at “considerably over budget.” The third bid, Johnson said, was rejected for “the cost and the perceived impact on the surrounding neighborhood.”

This past Tuesday, Johnson explained that at this point the issue is that the staff is looking at an approved project that is currently going nowhere. He said that since the last vote, there had been questions council members posed regarding the project.

Johnson said two questions have come to light since the vote. First, could the alleyway remain open and functional for traffic?

(Note: See drawing) The new design calls for the complete closure of the west half of the alleyway. This area would then be renovated into a “pocket park.” The alleyway currently runs downhill to the exit onto Kickapoo. That elevation would be raised, and additional parking spots would be added on Kickapoo as a result of the alley closure.

Johnson answered the question saying yes the alleyway could remain open, but it would be “at a cost.” There would need to be significant improvements to the grade in the alley and “traffic calming” devices for traffic trying to enter the alley from Kickapoo Street (The alley is currently one-way exiting onto Kickapoo. The plan calls for a reversal of the one-way to exit onto McLean. The current directional flow is a safety concern for visitors to the Lincoln Public Library, so if the alleyway did stay open, the direction of traffic would still change.).

The second question posed by various aldermen was “Could the grass area remain?” This is in reference to the green space at the corner of Kickapoo and Pekin Street adjacent to the old Bartlemay Building.

Again, Johnson said yes it could, but “at a cost.” He said the cost would include some of the standards for parking lots. He also noted that it was a city property that the city department has to mow and maintain at its expense.

Johnson said, as he sees it the council now has three options. First, they can rescind the negative vote and accept the last bid received. Johnson said the contractor who has bid on the project has said he will hold the price quoted until the council has an opportunity to re-visit its decision.

The second option, Johnson said, was to reject the project altogether and designate the capital dollars in the budget for Pekin Street be spent elsewhere.

The third option had two components. Johnson said the council could choose to re-bid the project “as is” with the new design. He said that at this point to re-bid it would require that some small alteration is made to the design, but that could be done easily. The second option would be to accept a completely new design for the lot and send that out for bid.

Johnson said that to do the re-design of the lot would involve additional dollars for the engineers as well as time lost on moving forward with any plan at all.

Johnson said that the staff and the city administrator are asking that the council give them direction as to how to proceed with a project that from their viewpoint is now in limbo.

Jonie Tibbs

Jonie Tibbs was the first to speak, addressing a comment Mayor Marty Neitzel had made earlier in the evening about the use of corrals for trash receptacles. Neitzel had noted that other businesses such as Hardee’s, Wendy’s, and McDonalds had corrals for their trash containers. Tibbs said that at those locations the corrals are required for food sanitation practices. She said that did not apply in the case.

Neitzel disagreed saying there are two food establishments; Flossie & Delzina’s and Sorrento’s Pizza, that have trash.

Tibbs said she had nothing against repaving the parking lot and taking care of the sewer. She said the city should not “bite the hand that feeds their face,” so they should respect the sensibilities of those affected businesses. She said drainage and ice was a concern for the business owners, and she did want to address that. But she didn’t see that the drainage issue could not be resolved without all this. She said she did certainly have a problem with making those businesses walk outside, and across the lot in all kinds of weather to discard their trash. She said corrals could be put up just outside the doors of the businesses. Tibbs said community did not care about where the trash was located in that alley. She also commented that there was no need to take up a portion of the alley for a “pretty place to sit.”

Neitzel said that they alleyway is a “front” in that it is visible to traffic from Pekin Street. She added that one business has a “front window” for that alley. It is also a front door for the Library Annex and the Safe Haven Hospice and a second front for the Heartland College.

Tibbs said she had talked to the businesses, and they do not want this change and don’t see the need for the alteration of the alley. Neitzel asked if Tibbs had talked to Heartland and the library. Tibbs said no she did not, because there has never been a problem for them the way it is.

Tibbs said she didn’t understand the “why” of the city wishing to do this. Neitzel said the big issue is drainage, and the plan will fix that. Tibbs said that could have been done a long time ago. She also said the city could take better care when cleaning the alley. She said she had heard from the business owners that the alleyway is the last thing ever to be cleaned in the city.

Rick Hoefle

Rick Hoefle said his big issue, first of all, is the cost of the project. He said that the bids have been too high, far exceeding the engineers estimated costs. He noted that to reduce the cost, the city had reviewed the sewer component of the plan, with Waste Treatment manager Tim Ferguson saying the sewer issues were not as bad as earlier thought. The city had then re-written the bid packets to exclude the sewer work. Even so, the job is coming in at $470,000. He said, “That’s one issue I’ve got, costs keep going up.”

Hoefle said his second issue with the project was the loss of the west end of the alley. He said he had talked to all the businesses that will be impacted, and none of them want to lose their alley. He also said the owners are upset about the use of the trash corral. He said the question had been posed to him, “if they have to have a corral, why doesn’t every other block on the square have the same?”

Neitzel repeated that it is because this alley can be seen from Pekin Street, making it something the public sees all the time. Hoefle countered that the streetscape plan called for fencing around the parking lots, he wondered if the city was going to do that as well. Neitzel said the revitalization plan was a suggestion, not a requirement. Hoefle went on to say perhaps a fence could be put up along that area to block the view of the alley from Pekin Street. He added that it looked to him like the current plan for parking could still be used without taking away the alley.

He then moved on to the odor issues in the businesses. He said that was something he felt absolutely had to be fixed.

Michelle Bauer

Michelle Bauer spoke up saying that there seemed to be an opinion that the city was not showing respect for the downtown businesses. She said she disagreed. She noted that she has a business downtown herself, as a choice, because it is where she wants to be.

She went on to speak on the corral. She said it was an inconvenience perhaps for some of the businesses, but it should not be a “deal breaker when you talk about the improvements in accessibility and traffic to your business.”

She went on to say that she noted Hoefle’s comment on the rising cost of the project. She said that it is nearly certain that the price will go up over time, that it will not ever get cheaper.

Bauer went on to say that she believed there was a misperception in the community that the $470,000 was primarily for aesthetics when the majority of the cost is going to be invested in the regrading of the parking lot to accomplish the proper drainage. She noted, “It is not $400,000 of fluff.”

She spoke regarding the west end of the alley. She said that currently exiting the alley onto Kickapoo Street is difficult as it is now. She noted that she was sure the large trucks and trailers could not be exiting that way now, and if they are, they are doing so by crossing lanes of traffic.

She said that yes the alleyway is visible from Pekin Street and makes an impression on visitors coming into the downtown area from the north. She noted that the city has bid and re-bid this project, which ultimately means they do want to do something with this. She said she didn’t think the city should invest more time and money in a new design when they have one that works.

Finally regarding the vacant lot on the corner, she said that in her lifetime in Lincoln, she doesn’t remember anyone ever making use of that corner. She said, "If nobody has gotten excited about it yet we’re holding our breath for a project in that area that is not there, we’re holding on to something I don’t think is necessary."

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Steve Parrott

Parrott began by saying he does drive through that parking lot with great caution. He said something needs to be done because the parking lot and alley are not in great shape. He commented that regarding the aesthetic, when driving Peking Street, the unsightly part of the area is the back of the buildings and the electric wires and transformers that are visible. He said the city could move forward and dress up the parking lot and alley, but the back of those buildings were still going to be unsightly.

Parrott said he didn’t vote for it the last time because it seemed to be all about aesthetics. He added that was not a good reason to vote for it, but a good reason to vote for it would be because the alley needs to be fixed and the parking lot needs to be fixed.

Neitzel spoke briefly about the cost of the project and reminded the council that the State had awarded $100,000 from its capital projects plan to this library.

Jeff Hoinacki and Tim Ferguson

Jeff Hoinacki asked Waste Treatment Manager Tim Ferguson to talk about the storm drains that will go into the project. Ferguson said he didn’t have it in front of him, but he believes there will be four to five storm drains throughout the parking lot area, and that there will be concrete storm sewers placed underground, the two components combined will address the poor drainage in the area.

Bauer moved on saying she did not disagree (with Parrott) that the backs of the buildings are not pretty, but there is nothing the city can do about that.

She said that the city could be mindful that if the accessibility to the back entrance of a business becomes more widely used, those businesses may do something to dress up the backs of their buildings.

Neitzel added that the city does have façade grants available that could help and encourage business owners to do just that.

Jonie Tibbs

Tibbs asked if the cost of the project included the sewer. Ferguson said that the $470,000 does include the storm drainage, but it does not include repairs to the sanitary sewer. Those are being bid separately in the sewer slip lining projects.

Todd Mourning

Mourning said after the council voted no the first time around, some of the business owners were surprised that the subject was now dropped. He said they had expressed to him that they still wanted something done, especially in their alley.

Mourning asked the representative present from Farnsworth Group to address the grading and drainage. That representative said that the storm sewers would have to be put in, and then the entire parking lot would have to be graded to make the water flow. He said that putting the storm sewer into the ground without doing the grading would be almost worthless.

Mourning went on to comment on the ADA compliant area that is drawn into the plan. He said that would be an asset to shoppers and business owners. He noted that yes there are ADA ramps on Broadway, but access to those ramps from a vehicle is not convenient for customers unless they are parked right next to the ramps. Tibbs said that the ADA in the back was not fair to the rest of the business owners on that block because only one has a back door entry.

Tibbs went on to say that because of this, what will happen is that customers will pass through the Mary Todd Hallmark store to go out onto Broadway and shop in other stores.

Kathy Horn

Horn said she had been listening to everyone’s comments about aesthetics, but she felt that the most important issue was the safety of the citizens. She said that this area is not safe for anyone, and safety has to be a concern for all of them.

Bill Vinyard and Richard Sumrall

Bill Vinyard and Richard Sumrall were in the gallery representing the Lincoln Public Library. Vinyard spoke for the library saying that right now, they feel they are being ignored on this issue. He noted that in all this discussion, no one from the city has talked to Sumrall or him about how the library feels about the project. He told the council that the library was a big asset in Lincoln, the building has great value, and the library has invested a lot of money in keeping the library in excellent condition.

Vinyard said that the library does own a portion of that lot, and has committed a total of $35,000 to this project because they do want to see it done. He said the alleyway as it is doesn't function well for the library. He noted that the Annex building had experienced flooding due to the issues with the alley.

He criticized the concern that the city has for making a business owner “walk 20 steps to a dumpster.”

He reminded the council that the library has real estate value in the community, but it is also a draw. He noted that at the Thursday morning program featuring the Richardt Petting Zoo, 255 children and parents attended, and were exposed to a parking lot surface that is unsafe for simply walking and standing.

Rick Hoefle

After a comment from Bauer that the city should rescind the previous vote and go again on the parking lot vote, Rick Hoefle commented, “Are you going to go tell the businesses on the other end that you are going to put them out of business because they can’t get their freight?”

Tracy Welch

Welch commented that he had been passionate about the green space, but that he could compromise on saving the green space.

He said where he was getting hung up was with the business owners. He noted that in the beginning, the business owners liked the plan, but now business owners like Greg Tarter no longer want this. He said he didn’t know why and wanted to know why that had happened. He said he suspected that the majority of the business owners are not as well informed as they need to be about what the plan involves, that it is not just for aesthetics.

He said he also felt that some people are looking at the downtown revitalization plan as the “holy grail” that must be followed when it is really just a suggested plan.

Welch also wondered if the city goes forward with this plan, will there be issues if and when the city goes to the alley behind Guzzardo’s. He said there are businesses such as Guzzardo’s and the Spirited Republic that take back door deliveries. There too, he noted, are exposed dumpsters. Furthermore, that alleyway is also visible from a street. He said he wanted to make sure that when it is all said and done, the city acts fairly with everyone.

Welch added that in the end, yes, it is important to make the downtown “as pleasant and presentable as possible because we are encouraging people to come downtown and shop, and make downtown a destination. I think my no vote last time was simply because I felt there was no compromise, which the decision had been made prior to some of us even being on the council. We were being asked to rubber stamp a project that has already gone through a process with no voice or input, and I think that is a dangerous precedent to set. That being said, I can't tell you exactly how I feel about this. I’m still torn on this because we are trying to please many people.”

Miscellaneous comments

Regarding freight deliveries, a comment was made that with the new construction, semi’s (large tractor and trailer units) will not be able to make deliveries. Vinyard said they never were (able to do that). He said there has never been a full-sized semi in the alley. He said the new configuration would allow the box truck style vehicles to come in and back into a designated space without blocking traffic. Currently, he said because of the one-way direction of the traffic, when trucks come in and block the alley way, drivers in the parking lot wishing to leave must wait for as long it takes for that truck to move.

Going back to Horn's statement on safety, Tibbs said the city has big issues with safety on the sidewalks. She felt fixing the sidewalks was more important than some of the issues they intended to address in this new parking lot design. She wanted money spent there instead of on some of the items in this plan that no one wants.


At the end of the discussion, the council decided to entertain two motions at the July 18th voting session.

The first motion will be to rescind the previous vote from May. The second motion then will be to accept the plan as is.

In placing this on a voting agenda, Neitzel said she was going to hold the items to the July 18th meeting because she knows some aldermen will be absent on July 5th, and she wants the full council to have the opportunity to vote on this important issue.

[Nila Smith]

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