By Megan Kelley
Parking discussions are a common occurrence in downtown Lake Orion.
Now, with the addition of four brand new restaurants (Oat Soda, Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Toms and 313 Pizza Bar), parking troubles are not expected to subside anytime soon.
In the spring of 2018, the Downtown Development Authority added 30 more parking spots to their 641 public and shared use spots. In addition to these spaces, the DDA has since purchased properties on Slater St. with plans to create a parking lot with space for 40 cars. However, currently the lot on Slater St. is designated as an employee only lot, explained DDA executive director Molly Lalone.
With these additions the total number of public and shared use parking spaces in the village is 711. But can that number accommodate the growing businesses?
In total, Oat Soda, Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Tom’s and 313 Pizza can seat nearly 483 patrons, discluding the patio where they plan to seat, at minimum an additional 54 patrons.
Should these businesses increase foot traffic in the downtown, it’s incredibly possible that patrons and residents will see an influx of parking related issues.
This year, the DDA board has again made parking a priority for the downtown area, Lalone said.
In a town like downtown Lake Orion, there are alternatives as well as developers who have expressed interest in building structures such as parking garages.
“We’re a little bit landlocked,” Lalone said. “We’re looking at alternatives in addition to whether or not there is any place to develop. But really, alternatives are going to be a better match for us right now I think because our parking is stressed a certain time of week…so in a case like that, what can we do during that time what can we do to relieve the stress?”
These alternatives include but are not limited to: valet parking, pay-to-park, utilizing NOTA and parking structures.
“We have a lot of traffic Thursday, Friday and Saturday, our nightlife is thriving right now,” Lalone said. “So we’re considering a valet parking situation and we would probably utilize the Slater (St.) parking lot for the valet parking.”
Valet parking was previously discussed among the DDA board on Jan. 14 where several board members voice opposition to the DDA paying for the implementation of valet parking.
“We’re just beginning that whole process. In other communities, customers pay for it,” said Lalone. “In a situation like that, we know that customers are paying for it, we also know that restaurants are welcome to validate/reimburse somebody for their parking or give them a discount. My opinion is that we want to kind of work that stuff out organically. We need to have it simple. You know, who is paying for it? The customer. The customer that doesn’t want to search for a parking spot.”
“The parking ADHoc committee from the village has had a continuing dialogue about paid-for-parking,” Lalone said. “There is kind of an agreement that we need to take our time and make sure that we understand what our goals and objectives are for that parking and also that we not institute it right before construction on M-24 so that is not something that we are considering implementing this year.”
The Parking AdHoc committee has however discussed placing parking meters at each of the four designated 15-minute parking spaces, Lalone explained.
Pay-to-park however comes with it’s own list of pros and cons.
“One of the pros of having a pay-to-park plan is that there’s revenue coming in to help maintain and develop parking. It also helps to manage traffic flow,” said Lalone. “The downside is perception that a customer shouldn’t have to pay. So sometimes customers will say, ‘well this town wants me to pay and this town doesn’t’ so they make a choice based on the paid parking.”
In addition to this, another positive for paid parking could also be the possibility of extending the 2-hour time limit on street parking.
During the DDA board’s special meeting, the idea of installing a NOTA bus stop in both downtown Lake Orion and downtown Oxford was brought up.
However, several board members voiced disinterest.
Because this is a fresh idea, there are still several unanswered questions such as what it would cost to put a NOTA stop in the downtown.
“I think that that’s the concern. That it would be very pricey,” LaLone explained. “In the past when we looked at them it’s been up to $60,000 a year which, seems unreasonable especially when we do not know how much it will be used.”
Currently, downtown Lake Orion does not offer any sort of public transportation.
“That’s why it continues to be on the table because the more ways you offer citizens a way to get into downtown the better it is,” said Lalone. “At the moment we’re looking at a situation where the driving is going to be hampered slightly because of the construction.”
According to Lalone, building a parking garage would run the village/DDA around $5 million.
However, there has been discussion from private investors that have expressed interest in building one.
“It’s complicated because the revenue generated in a parking garage situation doesn’t really cover the cost of the parking lot,” Lalone said. “So we have a private investor investing and trying to get his money back, he’s never going to get his money back, we’re never going to get any money built up from the revenue because it’s his revenue not ours so when it’s time for us to buy the parking lot we won’t even be able to do it because there hasn’t been any revenue to build up funds for it plus every 20-years you have to do quite a bit of maintenance to a parking garage so it’s complicated…I just don’t feel we’re at the threshold of need, that that kind of investment is what we have to do.”