By Jim Newell
Lake Orion officials are working to expand parking options in the village to accommodate the increased traffic to the downtown.
After all, four new restaurants – Oat Soda, Anita’s Kitchen, Bitter Tom’s and 313 Pizza Bar – have opened in the village since November, and none had dedicated customer/employee parking in their development plans.
But a lack of parking enforcement and the inability to direct visitors and employees who will be in the downtown for long periods of time to lots further off the main strip is creating parking chaos on the weekends.
And the new public parking lot on S. Slater Street, next to the Lake Orion United Church, is technically available for use: but no one knows about it and it’s still not finished, village officials said.
And no one seems to know who is using the public lot on Shadbolt and Lapeer streets, which is full seemingly all hours of the day.
These revelations came during the village’s Parking Study Ad-hoc Committee meeting on Feb. 3.
Parking enforcement is understaffed
The Passport Parking System is the village’s parking enforcement program, with parking agents patrolling downtown Lake Orion looking for violators.
But one problem with enforcing the parking restrictions and making sure motorists are warned and/or ticketed, is that the village is short on parking enforcement agents.
“We’re down to one parking agent,” said Acting Police Chief Harold Rossman, adding that he had just spoken with another potential candidate about the position on Feb. 3.
“There’s no one interested in working…hiring people has been a challenge,” village Manager Joe Young said.
Besides checking to see if people are parking longer than the allotted posted times, agents also check on violations such as parking in handicapped spots, loading zones or taking up more than one parking spot.
The village limits on-street parking to two hours and has six-hour and 23-hour parking lots, all of which are free and marked with parking signs detailing the hours of availability.
The parking ticket fees are a warning for the first offense, $15 for the second offense, $30 for the third offense and $45 thereafter.
For now, one part-time parking enforcement agent, who works about 16 hours a week, and Lake Orion police – when they are on patrol and able – are checking parking violations. But Rossman noted that the police officers have other duties and calls that take priority over checking parking.
Young said anyone interested in becoming a parking enforcement agent should contact Village Hall or the police department. Online: lakeorion.org.
Slater Street parking lot
“We did complete the construction of the gravel limestone lot on Slater (Street),” Young said. “Technically, it’s available for use but we have not addressed the access issue across the Music Studio or fire station yet. And/or taking down the fence.”
The village-owned parking lot on S. Slater Street, near the Lake Orion United Methodist Church can hold around 40 vehicles.
An easement through the Orion Music Studio or Orion Township Fire Department Fire Station No. 1 on to Anderson Street had been discussed for foot traffic to and from the lot. However, those negotiations have stalled and fire officials were against an easement, citing safety concerns.
Village officials hope employees of downtown businesses will park at the outer lots, such as the Slater Street lot, to help create more spaces on the main business streets for customers.
It was originally going to be an employee-only lot, but anyone can park there, Young said.
Anyone who parks in the lot will have to walk Slater Street to Flint Street to walk downtown.
The Slater Street parking lot still needs signage, screening to the adjacent properties and lighting, Young said.
The parking committee recommended that the Lake Orion Downtown Development Authority began addressing these issues and “get the lot usable as soon as possible.”
The DDA purchased the lots from the Lake Orion United Methodist Church for $275,000, tore down the two homes on the lots and had a parking lot installed, for a total cost of nearly $500,000, according to construction estimates.
Additional parking cannot come soon enough for some business representatives.
Lisa Sokol said the lots by Children’s Park, the Art Center and the two lots on west Anderson Street between Flint and Front streets (commonly known as the Whiskey’s and Pet Centre lots) are full shortly after 5 p.m. every Thursday through Saturday,
“It’s up to critical mass right now,” Sokol said.
Municipal lot on Shadbolt and Lapeer streets
Despite misconceptions on the part of many, the parking lot behind Fork ‘n Pint on the corner of Shadbolt and Lapeer streets is actually a public lot owned by the DDA.
The lot is currently a 23-hour lot, meaning nearby residents and business employees can park there as long as they like.
However, the committee discussed changing the parking time limit in the lot from 23 hours to 3 hours or 6 hours. The change would help prevent residents and employees from parking their vehicles in the lot for long periods of time, even overnight, and encourage turnover for customers.
The committee tabled the issue while Rossman explores options for policing and enforcing the parking guidelines.
“If there’s no enforcement, there’s no enforcement, whether its six hours or 23 hours,” council President Ken Van Portfliet said. “No one knows who parks there.”
Valet Parking proposal
The village is exploring bringing valet parking to Lake Orion during the busiest hours, evenings on Thursdays – Saturdays.
First Class Valet, Inc. of Rochester Hills submitted a $600 proposal to the village for services from 6-11 p.m. Thursday – Saturday. If they accept the proposal, village officials said they would have to designate a lot, likely the new lot on Slater Street, for valet parking during those hours.
Van Portfliet requested that a representative from First Class Valet give a presentation to the committee before moving forward with a vote. The committee is scheduling a special meeting for date to be determined.
Van Portfliet said a business owner he spoke to was willing to pay for the valet parking in the short-term to pilot test the program. Other financing options included asking downtown businesses that would benefit from the service to chip in each week. Many retail shops in the village close before 8 p.m., even on the weekend, but restaurants, some retail and service shops and 20 Front Street are open in the evenings and generate the most traffic.
“I want the DDA to embrace some of the responsibility here,” said Van Portfliet. “That’s something we’ve been asking for all along. So, that’s why I’m just suggesting their inclusion.”