By JOY BROWN
Public reaction Wednesday to a proposed downtown traffic and parking plan was like the weather — mixed.
About 150 people gathered at the Findlay Inn and Conference Center on Wednesday afternoon to hear the plan outlined by Mayor Lydia Mihalik and Brad Strader of LSL Planning, a firm hired by the Findlay-Hancock County Alliance.
Organizers of the 4:30 p.m. meeting for the general public put a lid on the session by not providing an opportunity for citizens to verbally ask questions or comment in front of the group.
Instead, attendees were asked to submit written questions and comments, which a committee comprised of elected officials, planners, business owners and economic development representatives will review in about a week, said Tim Mayle, Findlay-Hancock County Alliance assistant economic development director.
Citizens also were encouraged to ask questions of planners, engineers and officials who helped develop the proposed plan, while looking at sketches that were set up in the Findlay Inn’s atrium.
Mayle said organizers wanted to provide an opportunity for one-on-one discussions with the experts, so people could quickly and efficiently get their questions answered and concerns addressed.
“I think that brings validation to all of it,” Mayle said.
The downtown plan calls for reducing the driving lanes from four lanes to two on several blocks of Main Street. That would make room for angled parking along both sides of the street, creating additional parking spaces. Motorists would be asked to back into those parking spots, which is referred to as “reverse-angled parking.”
In addition, the distance that pedestrians walk to cross Main Street would be narrowed, and medians would be placed in the middle of the street, separating the driving lanes.
Three meetings about the traffic plan were held Wednesday, and were structured differently. The first two meetings, for the business community and the Findlay Young Professionals group, allowed for input and interaction from participants.
Some of the people who attended the general public meeting, the last of the day, said they were unhappy about the structure of their session.
“I came in and asked … how many questions are going to be allowed? I was told no limit. I asked if they will all be answered, and I was told yes,” said Brad Ehrnschwender. “I don’t feel as if I’m alone in the fact that I thought this was going to be some kind of a Q&A session.”
Ehrnschwender said he prefers the give-and-take of group dynamics and interaction.
Ehrnschwender said he has concerns about the plan itself, particularly the reverse-angled parking proposed for both sides of Main Street downtown. He said other communities that have this form of parking only have it on one side of a street.
Some citizens have also expressed worries that the plan would restrict movement of fire trucks, police cars and ambulances through the downtown.
Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer discussed that during the Findlay Young Professionals’ meeting.
“We do have four fire stations. Hanco has added a second facility,” Schmelzer said. “The Fire Department’s biggest comment about all this has been that the landscaped island in front of the station (as depicted in drawings) has got to go. The trucks from Station No. 1 going north need room. With the Police Department, their runs are so varied that this has relatively no impact on their operations,” he said.
“The safety forces recognize there are issues existing on our Main Street every day, right now,” Schmelzer said. Hanco Ambulance already diverts its squads onto parallel roads during peak Main Street traffic hours, he said.
At Wednesday’s meeting for the general public, presenters, as they did earlier in the day, touted the idea of downtown as a destination that serves the public the way it used to years ago.
“Some of the best ideas you have are ideas that have worked in the past,” said Strader of LSL Planning, which was hired to do a downtown traffic study.
Safety also was touted Wednesday as a reason to revamp traffic and parking downtown.
Strader said the plan continues to be a work in progress.
“This is not a plan that’s set in stone,” he said.
Mayle said citizens’ written comments will be reviewed and planners will “continue to refine the design” before a more solid plan is presented to Findlay City Council.
Council members must then decide whether to allow city administrators to apply for a state grant that would pay for up to 80 percent of the changes proposed on Main and Cory streets.
The grant application deadline is May 4.
Because of Wednesday’s snowstorm, another meeting for the general public will be held at 4:30 p.m. March 24 at the Findlay Inn and Conference Center. More updated information, and some tweaks to the plan based on citizens’ comments, can be expected then, Strader said.
“If this is not something the community wants, the last thing I want to do is waste time pursuing this,” Schmelzer said Wednesday.
“This design has really evolved. We are trying to be very responsive to comments and suggestions,” Strader said at the final Wednesday meeting. “There are people who have legitimate concerns about emergency services, who have suggested we have a test area on a side street for parking. We are listening.”
“Boy, they’ve got that propaganda machine cranked up,” said one man afterward.