MANHATTAN — After two and a half hours of public comment Tuesday night, the Manhattan City
Commission unanimously voted to authorize USD383 Manhattan/Ogden Schools to use an off-site lot as staff parking for Woodrow Wilson Elementary.
Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi says for her, the decision wasn’t a huge dilemma.
“Sometimes in the city, we think of parking problems, and it’s usually a convenience problem. This is not a convenience problem. This is just a necessity that we need to have,” Reddi said.
The lot is located at the corner of Osage and North 6th Street, currently vacant due to a fire that damaged the previous multi-family housing structure in January 2018. Originally, the district had planned to build an on-site lot since they’ve long had a parking deficit for Wilson staff, but this plan allows the district to address its needs at the school without having to relocate or downsize student playgrounds.
While everyone in attendance agreed the school had parking issues, the hitch was over using what once was a residential lot for parking. One resident — Chad Moreau — even presented his own plan to have angled off-street parking as an alternative. Multiple other speakers said the Moreau design interfered with the area for school deliveries and would also require the removal or relocation of mobile units currently in use.
“These are resources that are already at hand, so I’m asking you why degrade the neighborhood when we don’t have to,” Moreau said.
USD 383 school board member Karla Hagemeister countered that point saying the designer put a lot of thought into landscaping on the the site to ensure it fits into the community neighborhood. She also says the current plan allows them to protect that play area while also better accommodating the teachers and staff who work at Wilson Elementary.
“Once that green space disappears, once that play area disappears and turns into parking, very honestly I don’t think any of us can say that we’ll see it return,” Hagemeister said.
The new lot provides 21 new stalls, adding to the 24 existing off-street stalls to better accommodate 47 full-time employees. Commissioner Jerred McKee says he despises surface level parking lots, calling them a plague on urban environments, but was convinced of the need after hearing from the public.
“I think there is a convincing argument when it comes to the safety of our children, especially during the pickup and drop-off times that this makes sense,” McKee said.
Mayor Mike Dodson commented he was pleased to see the turnout of more than 20 residents and school employees voicing their concerns. He calls it a model of democracy in action.
“This is very rewarding to see all of these ideas that have come forward, all of the different comments that have come forward from a wide variety across all of our neighborhoods,” Dodson said.
Commissioner Wynn Butler says his primary interest in rezoning issues are property rights.
“What I heard tonight was those that own those immediate properties around there do not have a problem with the proposal, so therefore I’m going to support it,” Butler said.
The lot is designed to have more landscaping and trees than zoning requires, which school district officials say were part of an effort to be less onerous to the neighborhood.
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