Parking poses problems

City code could cripple Courthouse construction



by Mike Kroll

The Zephyr, Galesburg, Ill.

Sept. 16, 2010


I penned a pair of columns about the Knox County Board’s struggle to deal with an aging Courthouse that is also too small to accommodate all of the county’s office needs. One of the issues that hasn’t received much discussion publicly is that of available parking. The existing parking lot at the Courthouse is probably sufficient 75 percent of the time but it is definitely too small to accommodate both staff and patron parking on Mondays when traffic court is in session or on any jury selection day. Even those two challenges could be addressed with a little scheduling common sense were our judicial system so inclined.

But if the county board accepts either of the two present proposals for continuing to use the present Courthouse, an addition (either small or large) would be constructed right atop that existing parking lot. The architect selected to draw up these plans has proposed to construct an new larger parking lot parallel to Cherry Street which creates problems of its own.

As I wrote two weeks ago: “Both of the alternatives to continue using the existing courthouse include ugly and inappropriate additions to the building. But both also swept away the many mature trees and historical monuments on the courthouse lawn alongside Cherry Street to make room for a parking lot. On exterior aesthetics these plans failed but their internal layout for the courthouse and its additions were equally ill-considered. Little is really accomplished if reusing the courthouse only creates new problems while it sacrifices the history it supposedly preserves and protects.”

A new complication, unforeseen by architect Durrant, has arisen in the form of a Galesburg ordinance that specifies a formula to calculate the required number of “off-street parking spaces.” According to Galesburg city engineer Wayne Carl, “If there is not a change of use or an increase in intensity of use for the existing building, the existing parking will be adequate.  However, if they add on to the building then they would be required to comply with the parking space requirements.”

According to Carl, Galesburg municipal code mandates “one parking space would be required for every 200 square feet of gross floor area.” My reading of the code suggests a requirement of only one parking space for each 1,000 square feet of interior floor area “for institutions, clubs, lodges and other public and semi-public buildings.” Carl’s larger parking requirement appears to apply to most commercial properties —including office buildings and stores. It’s that requirement which kept Target from being able to expand their Galesburg store a few years back. Which category the courthouse belongs in is certainly debatable.

That same section of city code (Sec 31-229) also states: “Existing buildings not complying with off-street parking requirements may be remodeled, repaired, and structurally altered, but any enlargement must provide the required parking spaces; provided, however, that whenever a building or use constructed or established after the effective date of the ordinance from which this section derives is changed or enlarged in floor area, number of employees, number of dwelling units, seating capacity or otherwise to create a need for an increase of ten (10) percent or more in the number of existing parking spaces, such spaces shall be provided on the basis of the enlargement or change; and provided, further that whenever a building or use existing prior to the effective date of the ordinance from which this section is derived is reconstructed or is enlarged to the extent of twenty (20) percent or more in floor area, such building or use in its entirety shall then thereafter comply with the parking requirements set forth herein.”

The existing Courthouse is about 50,000 square feet in its present configuration (including the fourth floor and basement). The first option presented by Durrant appends an 8,800 square feet addition, that exceeds the ten percent space increase while the second adds an additional 39,500 square feet for a total addition of 48,300. In both cases Knox County would need to construct off-street parking spaces to comply with the city ordinance. The minimum parking lot for the Courthouse as is would be 50 spaces (250 spaces if Carl is correct), probably close to what is presently in place. But with the small addition 59 spaces (or 295 spaces) would be required and the larger addition ups that to 100 (or 500 spaces). Neither of Durrant’s existing plans provide sufficient space even after clear cutting the trees along Cherry Street and displacing the existing monuments.

In that September 2, 2010 column I suggested one possible solution to providing Courthouse parking without the Cherry Street scorched-Earth approach:

“[F]irst expand the present parking lot westward somewhat without encumbering on Standish Park to gain some parking spaces. Then approach the Galesburg City Council to discuss widening Tompkins, Cherry and South Streets around the perimeter of the courthouse sufficient to permit the creation of angled parking spaces. This would potentially create far more parking spaces than sacrificing the west lawn and it would look retro-cool as well. And remember, if the administrative offices are moved off-site and we de-concentrate the huge number of people who show up simultaneously for traffic court on Mondays, the parking issue will be significantly reduced.”

There are two problems with this plan. First, the creation of additional on-street parking spaces would not count against the city’s off-street parking requirement. And second, implementing angled parking on those adjacent city streets would require cooperation from the city that seems unlikely. Representatives of Johnson Building Systems and Durrant were said to be actually pleasantly excited about the angled parking idea and approached city staff about implementing it only to have metaphorical cold water thrown on them.

When I broached the subject with Carl he seemed genuinely unfamiliar with the concept (suggesting he was not personally involved in the discussion with JBS and Durrant) but he was equally cold. “This would be an exception to past practice of requiring off-street parking for developments.  Also, it would create an additional burden for the City in maintaining the parking areas; including plowing, striping, etc.  Angled parking also leads to more accidents, with cars backing out into the traffic stream often impaired by limited visibility through other vehicles and therefore should not be allowed on City streets.”

 It seems clear that city staff are not inclined to cut the county any slack with regard to the city’s parking requirements. Curiously enough, because the third option presented by Durrant to construct a totally new Courthouse and adjacent county administrative building placed them within the central business district zoning so no additional off-street parking would be required — even though putting all this extra demand on Simmons Street and the existing public lot without providing additional parking would be an inconvenience to Courthouse patrons and staff as well as to existing downtown businesses.