The Lewes business community will not take no for an answer.
Despite the Delaware president of M&T Bank saying a parking garage on its downtown lot was not an option, merchants and some residents continue to urge officials to pursue the plan at downtown parking committee meetings.
The latest push came at the Dec. 4 meeting, where more business owners spoke in favor of a garage at the corner of Market and West Third streets.
“This could be a win-win for everybody,” said business owner Leisa Berlin. “M&T could get revenue from a lot that’s been sitting there empty for 25 years. We could present this as a winning thing for them.”
Resident David Shook said the city must address parking problems immediately. He said the existing situation is strangling businesses.
“People don’t want to come downtown because it’s a hassle,” he said. “If downtown is choking out because you can’t even go there, then [the bank] is going to be affected too.”
Mayor Ted Becker and Councilwoman Bonnie Osler met with Nick Lambro of M&T Bank last month. Lambro told them the bank was not interested in selling the lot, but they would consider merging it with the adjacent city-owned lot to create more public parking. The net result would be about 20 new parking spaces, Becker said.
Committee member and business owner Matt DiSabatino said it seems like a lot of work for a minimal gain. He asked Becker to set up another meeting with Lambro where the community could make their case.
“I think if they got a real heartfelt sense of what’s going on and the challenges we have, I have to believe the bank would be pretty receptive to listening to us,” he said. “They are a community bank, and they are just as affected by this issue as other businesses are downtown.”
Resident Stuart Griffin agreed the city should undertake an organized effort to convince the bank to sell the lot or use it for a parking structure.
“What we’re looking at is a very focused, strategic lobbying effort,” he said. “I think there are a lot of smart people in this room, this town and this area that can get together and think about selling this through benefits to both.”
Resident Jenny Donahue also urged the committee to forge ahead with the parking garage idea.
“No simply means you haven’t gotten to yes,” she said. “I think the city council has that responsibility.”
Some residents suggested stepping back from other ideas, such as a jitney service, to focus solely on the parking garage effort. Becker said that would be a mistake.
“If we don’t do something to pick off some of these low-hanging fruit, I think we would be doing ourselves a big disservice,” he said.
DiSabatino agreed the city should take some short-term action, but he wants action now on a parking garage.
“Things have to start immediately,” he said. “It would ignite a tremendous amount of hope for the people – residents and the business community. If action started now, it would just feel really, really good.”
The committee voted unanimously to recommend the city add a jitney/shuttle service between the city’s underused parking lot on Schley Avenue and the business district. Becker envisions the shuttle to be an extended golf cart with a capacity for about 10 people. He said the city would likely need to purchase or lease two vehicles and run them on a continuous loop.
Griffin questioned the intent of the service. He said if the city hopes to attract tourists and shoppers with the service, it will not work.
“I don’t see the average out-of-town person using it,” he said. “As close as it is, it feels a mile away.”
If it’s for employees of downtown businesses, he said, it may have success.
DiSabatino said it may not work for workers, particularly restaurants employees, because the service would have to run so late to accommodate those people.
“How practical is it to have a jitney service if it’s not going to be available at night or later?” he said.
The final decision will be up to mayor and city council at its Monday, Dec. 10 meeting.
Third Street traffic pattern
City engineer Charlie O’Donnell of George, Miles and Buhr presented his preliminary findings in regards to converting West Third Street to one-way traffic and adding angled parking. The change would add 13 additional parking spaces to the block from Market Street to Savannah Road. Angled parking likely would not work on the streets beyond Market Street, he said.
The idea, presented by DiSabatino at an earlier meeting, proposed Third Street traffic be made one way opposite Second Street out to Shipcarpenter Street, creating a large loop. The idea was to change parallel parking to angled parking, creating more spaces downtown.
O’Donnell said Third Street from Market to Shipcarpenter is likely too narrow to add angled parking.