Parking has always been an issue in the Mid-City neighborhood around Saint John‚Äôs Health Center. Demand for space for hospital employees, patients and visitors far outstrips the available parking at the medical campus.
Hospital staff and visitors alike park on the surrounding, mostly residential streets 24 hours a day. A 1998 development agreement (DA) that allowed Saint John‚Äôs to build a new hospital required the construction of a 442-stall subterranean parking garage.
Because they didn‚Äôt want to spend an estimated $25 million to build the garage, Saint John‚Äôs management asked City Hall for permission to amend its 1998 DA to allow them instead to lease 450 excess parking spaces at the Colorado (formerly Yahoo!) Center two blocks away.
There was just one problem: Saint John‚Äôs had been leasing parking space since 2009 in violation of the Yahoo! Center‚Äôs 1981 DA, which did not permit it to lease parking space to non-tenants.
On June 28, 2011, both an amended 1981 Yahoo! Center DA and the 1998 St. John‚Äôs DA were approved on second reading by the City Council. The amendments allowed Colorado Center to legally lease 450 spaces in its garage to Saint John‚Äôs.
In reviewing the 10-year parking license agreement (PLA) between Saint John‚Äôs and Colorado Center a few days ago, local attorney Stanley Epstein noticed it was dated June, 10, 2011 ‚Äî 18 days before the parties received City Hall‚Äôs permission.
Epstein also informed me that the PLA has a provision that if the 1981 Yahoo! DA were not amended by Dec. 31, 2011 to permit non-tenant parking leases, an earlier 2009 license agreement with Saint John‚Äôs that allowed it to lease parking would be reinstated. In other words, City Hall gave its blessings to a clear violation of the Colorado Center‚Äôs 1981 development agreement.
City staff had reviewed the PLA but apparently never informed council or the public of the provision that allowed a two-year violation to continue, even if the leased parking arrangements in the amended DAs weren‚Äôt officially approved by year end, 2011.
By knowingly allowing these significant violations, how can we expect City Hall to enforce any other DAs ‚Äî plus variances ‚Äî or to do what‚Äôs right for the community? The record once again shows we can‚Äôt trust City Hall to look out for our interests.
To make things worse, the PLA allowed the Colorado Center to terminate Saint John‚Äôs license with 120 days written notice if space was needed for tenant parking. Saint John‚Äôs informed City Hall last December that it had received notice of license termination effective March 31, 2013.
I had written in these pages on June 13, 2011 that the Colorado Center‚Äôs owners boasted that there‚Äôs enough parking available in their garage that “they could lease out 1,053 stalls to non-tenants and still provide sufficient tenant parking.” If the center were to fully lease all its office/retail space (one third was unoccupied at the time), its owners claimed, that “even at full tenant occupancy at peak periods they would have parking space left over.”
It appears that everyone was fed a pack of lies because the Colorado Center garage has gone from “way overbuilt” to “inadequate” in just 18 months. Did the Colorado Center owners fib in June, 2011 when they claimed that there would be sufficient parking even if the building were fully leased? Or, did they send a possibly invalid termination notice by falsely “claiming” that all 450 leased spaces were needed for tenants?
What‚Äôs next? Ultimately, Saint John‚Äôs management is faced with making new shared-parking arrangements or conjuring up a whole new scheme by the end of March to replace its lost parking.
The amended Saint John‚Äôs DA states that if the PLA is terminated and if an acceptable traffic and parking management plan is not thereafter promulgated, City Hall can force Saint John‚Äôs to build the parking garage as required by its original 1998 DA ‚Äî something that should have been done to begin with.
It appears that City‚Äôs Hall‚Äôs willingness to waffle and obfuscate on Saint John‚Äôs parking obligations has encouraged hospital decision makers to avoid providing adequate and permanent parking for all concerned. It‚Äôs an unfortunate course of action that negatively impacts thousands of neighbors, hospital employees and guests.
Even if Saint John‚Äôs is eventually forced to build the garage, construction would take years. In the meantime, parking and traffic woes in the Mid-City area will worsen and everyone exposed to this debacle will continue to be poorly served. There‚Äôs a lesson in this for all those “car and parking lot haters” who want City Hall to reduce parking requirements for new developments. There‚Äôs never enough parking.
Less power to the people
Tuesday night the City Council will take action on a new plan that would make it easier for developers to get approval for projects with up to 50 apartments if they are willing to build more low-income apartments into the projects.
The proposal would exempt these fairly large, four- or five-floor housing developments ‚Äî already permitted in most areas of the city ‚Äî from public review if 25 percent of the units are for low and very low income tenants. Review and approvals would be handled internally by city planners.
Any proposal that bypasses public input and replaces it with a “behind closed doors” process is a bad idea. Let the council know what you think.
Thanks to Stanley Epstein for his assistance in preparing this column and providing legal information about the amended DAs and Parking License Agreement. Comments? Contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.