Brainerd to establish downtown parking commission to address concerns
Applications for the new commission will be available on the city's website Friday, July 10.
Is there enough parking in downtown Brainerd?
The seemingly never-ending discussion around the issue continues, this time with some definitive action — the creation of a parking commission.
In 2015, members of the planning commission and council debated about “modernizing” downtown parking standards.
In 2016, the council discussed a special assessment for downtown residents to cover a deficit in the city’s parking lot fund, as expenses surpassed revenue.
In 2017, a Brainerd Dispatch reporter shed some context on the issue, physically counting 259 on-street diagonal parking spaces in downtown Brainerd and another 30 in the public Laurel Street parking lot.
In 2018, the council increased parking limitations from two hours to three hours in the public lot on the corner of Front and South Seventh streets to increase parking availability downtown.
In 2019, council members mulled over the idea of having parking meters downtown but never moved forward with the measure.
Now, Council President Gabe Johnson said he was recently approached by a downtown business owner who asked about creating a parking commission, as she feels there is not enough parking downtown, especially during peak hours for restaurants.
“Really she just wants to put together a committee — or have the council put together a committee — of downtown business owners, or people concerned about parking to kind of discuss the issue and bring recommendations to the council,” Johnson said during a council meeting Monday, July 6.
The business owner was not able to attend Monday’s meeting, Johnson said, but community member Bruce Buxton did and spoke in favor of the commission. Buxton spearheaded the downtown River to Rails revitalization project.
“I just think the parking discussion around downtown is still a very viable issue that needs to be discussed because even though we’ve had COVID and business hasn’t been exactly what we’d like it to be, I think when it comes back and if we continue to revitalize and reinvest in downtown we’re going to need more parking, and we need to figure out how best to provide that,” Buxton said.
After some research, Johnson said staff learned there used to be a parking commission that was disbanded in 2005. Council members Jan Lambert and Wayne Erickson served on that commission prior to their time on the council.
A memo in Monday’s council packed proposed a seven-member commission, which Lambert suggested decreasing to five, as she said the city already has a hard time filling commissions that require seven members. Johnson said that sounded like a good idea and suggested making the committee ad hoc, meaning it wouldn’t necessarily meet regularly but whenever needed. He said the commission could talk about long-term and short-term parking plans downtown and bring recommendations to the council so council members don’t have to spend as much time talking about the issue in meetings.
Council member Kelly Bevans, however, was not on board.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” he said, comparing the idea to the rental housing committee formed a couple years ago primarily to address recurring issues at a property on Juniper Street. Bevans reiterated statements from previous council meetings, saying that committee hasn’t done anything in the years since its formation.
Lambert, the council liaison to that committee, disagreed, saying the rental housing committee has consistently met twice a month and had planned to bring a recommendation in front of the council in May but was delayed with the coronavirus pandemic. She said now the group has gotten something sent to the city attorney and is close to a recommendation. Johnson vouched for the group, too, noting he spoke with another member of the committee over the holiday weekend who said the group has done a lot of work and is close to a solution.
Bevans maintained his position, noting downtown business owners do not need an official committee to talk about parking.
“I think if downtown business owners want to talk about parking, purple fairies or whatever, I don’t care. Do it. I think they’re responsible for their own businesses,” he said. “You can count the parking spots until you’re blue in the face and talk about them until you’re green in the face, but until you’re ready to come up with an idea and bring it to the council, just talk. Go to The Last Turn Saloon and talk.”
Council member Tad Erickson said he is in favor of a committee that meets monthly and would perhaps get disbanded after dealing with the issue at hand.
Wayne Erickson said the previous parking commission was beneficial.
“We did accomplish some things downtown at the time, and we were able to get some reinforcement of parking rules, and it seemed to help the parking situation a lot,” he said.
Lambert asked if the commission would need a council liaison, as the original parking commission did not have one. Johnson said he likes having liaisons to keep the council informed, but it wouldn’t be necessary.
The council voted 6-1 to re-establish an ad hoc parking commission with five members. Bevans was opposed.
City Administrator Jennifer Bergman said applications should be available online Friday, and the council will likely make appointments at the next July meeting or the first August meeting.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .