Business owners in the McGinley Square Partnership have no trouble finding parking, but they have trouble keeping it.
For the second time in two years, the Parking Authority has sold one of its lots in McGinley Square to a developer, thereby reducing the number of spaces available to shoppers entering the commercial hub south of Journal Square.
The dispute came to light in February, when the Partnership learned that the Parking Authority had sold the parking lot on 241 Fairmount Ave. to a developer wishing to build affordable housing.
“We were not aware at all,” said Charlene Burke, a Partnership board member. “There was no correspondence between the Parking Authority and the SID [Special Improvement District].”
The general consensus among the partnership is that the Parking Authority should be working with the SID, not against it. “It’s because it’s here and something we can develop and work on as a community instead of pulling the rug out under from us,” said Valerie Vlahakis, owner of Lee Sims Chocolates on Bergen Avenue. Vlahakis said that restaurateurs and specialty shops must rely on citywide shoppers, who, most likely, would commute to the store by car. “The major importance of the parking lot is the potential for developing the area,” she said.
City officials said that the parking lot was in poor condition, underused, and better suited for development. “Publicly [Mayor Glenn Cunningham] supports any efforts to support affordable housing in the city,” said Stan Eason, a spokesman for the mayor. He added that the Parking Authority has a budget to meet, and selling some of its assets is an understandable method of remaining solvent.
According to Burke, McGinley Square has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in the past couple of years as state grants have allowed the district to invest in an image makeover, bringing in new storefront facades, decorative sidewalks, and better lighting. But the improvements can not bring in businesses, Burke said, if the property owners can not guarantee those businesses parking for their customers.
Speaking at several council meetings, Burke and other board members have garnered the support of six council people. Council President L. Harvey Smith has suggested that the developer purchase a plot of city-owned land a few blocks away on Duncan Avenue that is better suited for a housing project. But the City Council said it does not have the authority to void a contract signed with the Parking Authority, an autonomous agency.
The administration has met with the Partnership to discuss the problem Thursday, but has sought alternative locations to provide parking rather than relocate the developer. At the meeting, Cunningham learned for the first time that the parking lot was inside the boundaries of the SID. Although no agreement was reached at the meeting, the administration promised to revisit the issue with a solution soon.
But Burke fears the solution would involve acquiring a different property to build a lot, and subsequently become a long drawn-out process. “The proposals that are being put on the table are not guaranteed,” Burke said. While the administration debates its options, the Partnership intends to block the developer’s intentions by using its support on the council in another way.
The affordable housing project needs a 20-year tax abatement to be feasible. The Partnership hopes to convince City Council, the body responsible for granting long-term tax abatements, to vote against the abatement.