Osceola City Council took action on the downtown street project plans at its meeting Jan. 2.

With a 3-2 vote the council decided to go forward with two proposed plans for the Osceola downtown streets.

The original plan drawn up in 2014 called for elimination of the center parking, expansion of the sidewalk, trees, brick pavers, bump-outs at the intersection and mid-blocks, and possible alley improvements once the work under the roads had been accomplished.

Even if the streets are reconstructed back to their current width, to accommodate the center parking, current design standards for stopping sight distance would dictate the center parking stalls be reduced in length, resulting in fewer available center parking spots.

In regards to the second option, City Administrator/ Clerk, Ty Wheeler said,

“The city’s goal was to remain parking neutral throughout this process, so if the center parking were to be removed the city hoped the additional parking could be secured elsewhere. This is what led to the concept of redeveloping the northwest corner of the courtyard square into additional parking. It wasn’t just paving more parking, but reconfiguring the current parking lot so the entire space was used efficiently. However, the county was reluctant to see the entire green space go away but were in favor of looking at a more modest reconfiguration that may include use of some of the available green space.”

Councilman Dave Walkup gave a call for action to his fellow councilmen.

“Our City Administrator and V&K, they’ve been back and forth, we haven’t given them direction. We need to give them some direction,” said Councilman Walkup.

Before the full debate began, Rod Clark, of Clark’s Furniture, addressed the council.

“We have a lot of vehicles that pull trailers, school buses, everybody pulls in that center parking,” said Clark. “I’d rather see center parking stay, it’s a lot safer for a lot of people to park there. They don’t want to pull in at an angle in front of my store, then they can’t see to back out. If there’s somebody right beside them, a pick-up or van or anything, they’re backing out blind. It’s all around the square that way. They’d rather park out there because they can just pull forward.”

There was much discussion over taking action on the two options as neither calls for the reimplementation of center parking once the streets are put back together after the sewer and water line repairs are completed.

“I’m definitely for keeping it [center parking],” said Councilman Dan Hooper. “Center street parking could be put in now, and if it’s not wanted in five years all you’ve got to do is remove the paint lines and the center street parking is gone.”

Councilman Dennis Page responded,

“We don’t want it now, let’s get rid of it.”

Mayor Thomas Kedley spoke up during the debate.

“With all due respect, I will not sign or approve a project that has center street parking. I will veto it,” said Mayor Kedley.

Councilman Dr. George Fotiadis voiced his opinions on center street parking as well as the renovation of the downtown streets in general.

“I know we’re going to eat into it [center parking] regardless of which way we go because of the clearances needed for the middle block pedestrian crossings,” said Fotiadis.

In regards to adding broader sidewalks around the square in front of the businesses, Fotiadis said,

“I wanted to see if we could put our infrastructure not under the road. Because then, if we have to do any further repair, it’s less expensive to repair a sidewalk than a street.”

The broader sidewalk would potentially cover the new water and sewer lines making maintenance more efficient by not reconstructing a road for any repairs needed after initial construction.

Another topic brought up by the center street parking debate was adequate parking space for businesses.

“Owners of businesses … the parking in front of their businesses is public parking. The parking at the rear of the business is owner parking. We are here for public parking,” said Walkup. “I don’t think it [center parking] is safe, and I think that’s what we’re looking at is safety. We’re not looking at convenience of owners.”

“Our goal with the project will be to fix critical infrastructure, make the business district safer and more livable and foster an environment better suited to supporting local business,” said Kedley.

As the debate died down, Fotiadis made a motion to approve the two plans for the downtown project, neither including center street parking. The motion was seconded and a roll call vote was taken.

Councilmen Hooper and Gay voted no, Councilmen Fotiadis, Walkup and Page voted yes, with the motion passing 3-2 in favor of continuing the downtown street project with the two plans for consideration.

Originally seen in the Osceola Sentinel-Tribune, written by Tyra Audlehelm