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Main Street parking limits proposed

A stretch of East Main Street in downtown Medford will have one- and two-hour enforced parking under a plan recommended by the Medford Parking Commission Thursday.

The recommendation is in response to an outcry by local business owners over Medford's plans to turn spaces on the bridge over Bear Creek into permit-only parking and shorten time limits for others along East Main from the bridge to Riverside Avenue.

"It's no real solution when we're fixing just one block," said Parking Commission Chairman Fred Robinson. "It's definitely a small patch."

The City Council will hear the recommendation at its noon meeting Thursday, Nov. 17.

The commission looked for a balance between business-friendly spaces and long-term use. Members unanimously backed Vice Chairman Mark Millner's motion for a one-hour limit for both sides of Main Street between the crosswalk on the west end of the Bear Creek bridge and Riverside Avenue, and two-hour limits on the 20 or so spaces on the bridge. The motion also recommended enforcement of the two-hour time limits.

"It has to be monitored," Millner said.

Even though the bridge spaces had posted two-hour limits in the past, the city did not enforce those limits. No one seems to know exactly when the city decided not to enforce the two-hour limit on the bridge.

"I asked the same question and didn't get a response," said Robinson, whose merchant father accumulated nine downtown parking lots now operated by the city. "The first people getting there have been able to use it indefinitely. It can be (Rogue Community College or Southern Oregon University) students and some employees get there early enough."

The city is installing machines to collect fees for parking beyond posted time limits later this month and has encouraged employees and students to purchase parking permits. Some areas, such as the bridge, were designated permit-only zones, but the city's plans were put on hold after complaints from local businesses.

"I looked at it as a possible stop-gap for now, keeping people in the community understanding we are working in the city's and business community's best interest," Millner said. "We had some very agitated business owners and we heard their dismay."

Commission members said there's an urgency among downtown merchants and property owners to find solutions to parking problems.

"We've got a one-year ultimatum," Millner said, in reference to the Northgate Marketplace, where Trader Joe's, REI and PETCO will go in during the next year, and the Walmart Supercenter being built at Miles Field.

"All this new development in the north and south is good for the community, but it puts pressure on downtown to be unique and one-of-a-kind," said Millner, the owner of Terra Firma and a downtown landlord. "And it's the only shopping area with parking restrictions."

Main Street retail shops have struggled during the recession, hitting both owners and landlords. Main Street Market owners Phyllis Nelson and Alice McGee fear shorter time limits and permit parking could doom tenants — ranging from hair and nail salons to an architecture firm and restaurant — whose customers need more time to conduct business.

Even the compromise recommendation, opening 20 nearby spaces, didn't seem like a half loaf to Nelson.

"I think it was more like a crumb," she said. "I think we need two hours all the way down Main Street."

Chip Wright, owner of Chip Wright Champion Karate, said there are a variety of factors that make permit parking — allowing indefinite stays — problematic for businesses, pushing customers farther away from their destinations.

"I feel selfish," Wright admitted. "But I don't see a solution that's going to suit everyone."

Bill Hoke, interim city manager, cautioned the parking plan put together by a consultant requires six months to develop. But Millner said that might not be prudent.

"I think we should act sooner if necessary," he said. "We need business retention in downtown and not vacant buildings. We all know this is a work in progress."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email business@mailtribune.com.