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Local

With downtown parking under scrutiny, city examines options

Jamee A. Pierson/Daily News
Hotel Maytag developer Jack Hatch speaks to the city council during its workshop on Monday about his willingness to work with downtown businesses and the city on where parking spaces for residents of the building will be located.
Jamee A. Pierson/Daily News Hotel Maytag developer Jack Hatch speaks to the city council during its workshop on Monday about his willingness to work with downtown businesses and the city on where parking spaces for residents of the building will be located.

Parking in the downtown area is an ever-evolving topic for the city. Newton Public Works Director Jody Rhone reviewed the different types of parking and locations where parking is available in the downtown area, along with potential changes to the parking agreement with Hotel Maytag Investors, during a city council’s workshop session Monday.

“Every few years staff looks at the downtown parking and tries to stay current with the needs. The downtown usage changes over the years so we want to stay current and help our businesses,” Rhone said. “We’re taking a comprehensive look at the parking in downtown as a whole, not just as one particular item or one particular business. We are looking at all of our parking, the 3-hour parking zone, is that still current and how we want it.”

Currently, there are 1,367 public parking stall in downtown with 319 designated as premium on-street parking spaces for customers, inside a 3-hour parking zone. There are an additional 553 on-street parking spaces outside of the 3-hour parking zone and 419 public parking stalls in the city-owned parking lots. Those spots in the lots have a 72-hour restriction attached to them.

The parking spaces have had different restrictions placed on them throughout the years including 2-, 3- and 4-hour limits and parking meters. They have also had restrictions removed which was the case in 2015 when the council approved removing all parking meters from city-owned lots.

“This was done to encourage employees and long-term parking to move off the streets taking up the premium customers stalls and encourage turnover of the on-street parking for patrons of the businesses,” Rhone said.

Rhone said he has seen improvement in that area but he has heard employees of downtown businesses, including the courthouse, continue to utilize the premium customer parking stalls. Mayor Mike Hansen said he has been in contact with supervisor Doug Cupples about the issue, as well.

“A few months ago Chairman Cupples of the Jasper County Board of Supervisors called me and asked me about issues that had come to his attention,” Hansen said. “I informed him that ever since I have been serving the citizens of Newton as a council member and mayor, this had been a problem as far as folks that actually work there taking up spaces.”

To help determine how often the city’s parking lots are used, Rhone and his staff, along with staff from the Newton Public Library, did a lot usage survey during normal business hours during a two-week period. The survey found of the 419 spaces available, 246 or about 58 percent were unused in the public lots. Several lots saw usage at 60 percent or higher with one lot remaining 95 percent full on a regular basis. Rhone said of the lots that saw little to no usage, many were located further away from the downtown, increasing the walking distance for patrons and employees.

“Some of our lots only have 5 percent usage during the day,” Rhone said.

The lot usage study doubled as an indicator of where spaces could be available for those who may move to downtown to live. With 45 spaces needed for residents of Hotel Maytag and an increasing push to have second floor living in downtown, now is the time to assess where those vehicles could possibly go, Rhone said.

“Within a couple of years we have the potential of having more than 150 people living in the downtown, Rhone said. “This will be good for downtown businesses but it will also require for all of those people living there a place to park.”

While city council already approved a parking plan for Hotel Maytag residents with spaces being split between a new lot in the green space north of the building, the lot behind the Floor Store and the lot behind PJ’s Deli, after receiving feedback from business owners in the area, the city and developer Jack Hatch said they are open to a new plan for the allocation of the spaces.

“We will do anything you require,” Hatch said. “We will be more than willing to accommodate the merchants and renegotiate our lease with the city.”

Rhone said everything is on the table as far as where the spaces could go and he, along with city staff, are open to suggestions.

“We’re trying to look at any other green spaces or former building lots,” Rhone said. “We’re looking at this not just for immediate needs but we could potentially have a lot more people living in downtown. We’re trying to think this through before making any changes so we are not having to do this constantly.”

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or jpierson@newtondailynews.com

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