Less about available parking, more about bad behavior

Residents and business owners alike unhappy about situation

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Success has its price. Especially in the Riverside Avondale historic district – and that price is driving residents mad.

Members of the Riverside-Avondale Area Parking Steering Committee – both residents and business owners – voiced concerns about the side effects of that success at the second planned meeting on June 10 after hearing preliminary results of the parking study from Martha Moore of Ghyabi and Associates.

Andrew Beh, a resident near Post and King, said it wasn’t just the inability to get in and out of his own driveway, but the lack of respect for homeowners’ properties from patrons of nearby bars and restaurants. “There’s real road rage on these narrow streets,” said Beh. “A lack of patience. We have people driving on our lawn and parking in the front yard,” in addition to blocking his driveway most Thursday through Saturday nights.

“Our driveway gets blocked on a regular basis,” echoed Jennifer Madaychik, who lives at College and King, behind The Salty Fig. “We’ve dealt with trash on the lawn, items stolen from our porch, people urinating on the lawn and our own car was totaled because we had to park in the street.”

Avondale resident Cassie Norris, who lives on Pine Street, noted that ignoring four-way stops and speeding through the narrow streets is also an issue. She’s concerned about emergency response vehicles that can’t negotiate the streets with parking on both sides. During events which draw large crowds, like Christmas in Avondale, Norris has taken to parking on the street herself just to ensure that she can get out.

Tom Merton said his biggest issue wasn’t parking availability near Merton House, his bed and breakfast inn at Post and James streets. “My biggest concern is the noise at two and three o’clock in the morning from boorish drunks.” Merton recently felt compelled to give a guest a free night’s stay because she couldn’t sleep due to the incessant beeping of cars being unlocked. He’s also had his car sideswiped while parking on the street to save the inn’s off-street spaces for his guests.
The area shop owners aren’t taking these issues lightly. “I feel like I have a target on my back,” said Ed Salem, owner of Kickbacks and soon, Guzzlepipes and Guttyworks. “But the increase in business has helped raise property values. We need to find a way to keep businesses open in the historic districts.” He noted that recent new homeowners have specifically bought in the Park and King location because there was a lot of activity in the area.

From Avondale’s Biscottis, owner Barbara Bredehoeft expressed dismay over hearing about unruly visitors but noted, “We don’t have control over our customers.”
One of the findings of the study was the number of employees who used prime spots in front of or nearby the businesses. Soliman Salem, of the City of Jacksonville’s Planning and Development Department, was present during the three-day parking analysis in the Shoppes of Avondale. He noted that 20 to 25 per cent of the vehicles parked in front of restaurants were there during the entire evaluation period, seeming to indicate that they belonged to employees.

Noted Bredehoeft, “We need a place to direct our employees to park that’s away from the business. I think they will, but we don’t have it.” Though 35 of Biscottis’ 55 employees travel by car to work, parking in the alleys behind the shops is not an optimal choice as there have been reported thefts from cars parked in those dark, less traveled alleys.
Although the analysis for the Park and King area had not yet been conducted, Andy Zarka, the owner of the European Street Café, thought an informal study of the population in Riverside and Avondale would reveal that many residents who lived within walking distance still would drive to shop or dine. “I would like to see more folks walk and free up parking for visitors from outside those areas,” said Zarka.

That may be a pipe dream. During the Avondale analysis, clipboard in hand, Salem was approached by curious shoppers who then provided him with complaints about lack of parking immediately in front of a shop or restaurant. “People don’t want to walk another 50 feet [from a parking spot],” said Bill Proctor, a Pine Street resident.
The Brick Restaurant’s owner Steve Kunz asked “How do we blend the need for commercial enterprise with the needs of the residents…who also frequent these shops? How can we maximize parking for everybody?”

Just across St. Johns Avenue, Diane Garcia of J. Ashley Boutique, and president of the Shoppes of Avondale Merchants Association, shared “We definitely want to work this out. The merchants are ready to put valet parking in place.” Garcia said that Prudential Network Realty may agree to allow staging of the valet service on their lot, but that parking spots were still to be determined. She hoped that valet parking would be put into place before the end of June.
Kay Ehas, committee chair, noted that one of the solutions may be to develop partnerships with “day time” businesses that have off-street parking lots, allowing evening patrons to use those spaces. District 14 Councilman Jim Love, whose insurance business has a small 10-space lot, cheerfully allows customers to nearby Kickbacks use his lot after 5 p.m.
The steering committee will meet two more times in July (the 15th and the 22nd) in the Ed Ball Building prior to holding community meetings tentatively scheduled for early August. Area residents will be presented with the results of the study and given an opportunity to express their own concerns or solutions at separate Avondale and Park and King meetings, dates, times and locations to be determined.

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