By JOY BROWN
Legislation authorizing Findlay officials to apply for a traffic safety grant will be introduced at Findlay City Council’s April 1 meeting, Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer said Tuesday.
Council’s approval to apply for the state funding would not be “an approval of the (downtown parking and traffic) project, nor is it a finalization of the project,” he said at Tuesday’s council meeting. But he referred to the downtown proposal as “a great opportunity” that he believes can come to fruition with enough compromise.
Parking and traffic lane changes for Main Street continued to be a discussion topic on Tuesday.
About 60 people packed council chambers. Some came to address a proposed “riparian corridor” along a portion of Lye Creek, while others were there to hear and express more opinions about traffic plans introduced by government officials and private sector economic development representatives.
Public criticism has focused on the idea of reverse-angled parking along both sides of Main Street downtown, and on whether reducing the street’s driving lanes from four lanes to two will slow emergency vehicles.
But council heard only from three supportive downtown business owners on Tuesday night.
“We need to make sure Main Street is safe for all people, both motorists and pedestrians,” said Rieck’s Gallery owner Kent Weaver. “We should pay attention to the recommendations that project engineers and ODOT are putting forth. Business will continue to decline if parking doesn’t improve.”
Weaver reiterated that the current proposal is not set in stone.
“Everything so far is conceptual and subject to change,” said Weaver, who is serving on a committee that has been helping to develop the proposals. “The whole design will evolve as time goes on.”
Jeremy Kent, owner of One Energy, a wind turbine company based in Findlay, said an improved downtown would help him lure more employees and grow his business. He implored council to be “progressive.”
“Change is always scary. It’s never easy. But if you don’t evolve, you get left behind,” Kent said. “This plan would make downtown more accessible, would make it safer and would help me attract talent.”
Kelley McClurkin, owner of Bread Kneads on Blanchard Street and a committee member, also expressed support for the plan.
“I want our downtown to be a destination,” McClurkin said. “I don’t want to cruise there at 45 miles per hour. I’ve had difficulty getting my senior mother across the lanes.”
Separately Tuesday, Don Malarkey from Marathon Petroleum Corp. spoke in support of legislation that would vacate some streets and alleys that run through the company’s campus. Three ordinances were given the first of three readings.
Two council members had questions about planned street redesigns and traffic flow out of a planned Marathon parking garage along East Sandusky Street.
Malarkey said plans for some widening of East Street “are being done in conjunction with the city.”
Left-turn lanes are planned for northbound and southbound traffic, Schmelzer said, and would be incorporated into the existing right-of-way.
Parking garage traffic would have access points fronting East Street and Beech Avenue that would serve as both entries and exits, Malarkey said.
“I would expect a lot of traffic to come in on East Street and out on Beech, with traffic going back to Sandusky Street,” he said. “The existing parking lots dump (traffic) out onto Sandusky (Street) at multiple points. Those (driveways) would be closed.”
Peak traffic volume from Marathon usually happens between 4:45 and 5:45 p.m. on weekdays, said Mayor Lydia Mihalik.
“Employees don’t all leave at the same time. It’s not like shift work. It’s different in terms of it being an office environment,” she said.
Separately, council gave the second of three readings to an ordinance that would approve a Lye Creek riparian corridor along a section of government-owned property near the Blanchard River.
Emerson Focht of 719 Wedgewood Drive voiced his opposition to the project for a second time, saying he thinks it would “do more harm than anything else.”
“I would really like for council to let’s drop it and forget about it,” Focht said.
But Kurt Ramthun, a Hawthorne Road resident who also lives near the proposed corridor, had a different opinion.
The project, which would return the land to its natural state, would “help fill in the empty lots” created when flood-damaged houses were demolished, Ramthun said.
“You’re the first person I’ve seen address this body that’s for it,” said Thomas Klein, 4th Ward councilman. “You’re standing tall there.”
But Holly Frische, 1st Ward councilwoman, said she spoke to about a dozen neighborhood residents, two of whom also expressed support for the proposal.
“I understand where everyone is coming from on both sides,” she said.
Council is expected to vote on the Lye Creek project at its April 1 meeting.