Parking garage charrette scheduled

Remember the brouhaha that erupted last year when locals caught wind of plans to build a massive downtown parking structure on the spot currently used for the Saturday Farmers’ Market?

There were emergency meetings and the nearly spontaneous formation of an opposition group that launched a petition drive to gather signatures and put the matter of financing the project to a voter referendum. The City Council, a version of which had earlier voted to double parking meter rates, backed down on extending the hours of enforcement, diluting the city’s ability to pay for the $15 to $18 million structure.

The rate increase last summer, however, did ease the impacted parking downtown because employees there decided 50 cents an hour is too much to pay for convenient parking.

For those who thought the matter had disappeared off the radar, think again. Later this month, beginning Thursday, March 22 and running through Monday, March 27, the city will host a “charrette,” which is a community get-together of city-invited (in this case 48) “stakeholders” and anyone else with an interest.

The charrette project’s name avoids the words “parking” and “garage” and instead goes by the moniker “Chico Downtown Access Plan,” which promises to address issues such as auto circulation and parking, defined in a city-issued document as development of an “integrated parking management program” to look at more effective distribution of parking use, i.e., telling drivers where parking exists outside of the downtown core area.

The charrette attendees will also, according to the description, explore alternative means of transportation downtown—pedestrian, bike and mass transit—and development and use of the downtown.

This latter element is key as some developers look to build high-rises, at least by Chico standards, in the downtown area that will require increased parking spaces. Initially the need for a downtown parking structure was sold by proponents as way to bail out downtown merchants whose businesses were suffering from a lack of available parking downtown.

The 48 stakeholders identified by the city include the Downtown Chico Business Association, which has been spearheading the drive for a structure, Chico State, whose master management plans call for a parking structure on campus, the Farmers’ Market, the Chamber of Commerce and Friends of the Downtown, the group that formed in opposition.

Other stakeholders include the Meechoopda Tribe, Chico Velo bicycle club, the Chico Unified School District, Friends of the Farmers’ Market and the Butte County Association of Governments.