By J. Patrick Pepper
DEARBORN — It was deja vu all over again at the Sept. 8 City Council meeting as paid parking and failed developments once more took center stage.
The paid-parking system in the city’s west Michigan Avenue business district will be headed for some changes after members approved measures changing the fee structure and hours of operation.
In the publicly owned parking lots between Mason and Monroe on both sides of Michigan Avenue, a new payment option has been added in hopes of keeping patrons inside businesses and spending money. Effective immediately, lot users now will have the option of paying a $2 flat fee for the entire night Monday through Saturday starting at 6 p.m.
Many business owners have complained that the specter of an expiring meter and the subsequent parking ticket has led customers to leave prematurely instead of going to the meter and inserting more money. The change will come at the bar-and-restaurant-dominated area’s busiest times.
A parking attendant will work the collecting the fees, but users still will have the option of using a meter if they plan on parking for a shorter period of time.
Also undergoing changes on the entire system are the hours of operation. Instead of running until 4 a.m., enforcement now will extend until only 3 a.m.
On the administrative side, the council also approved a contract extension until June 30, 2010, with Park-Rite, the company that runs the paid parking system. The terms pay Park-Rite $4,200 monthly in addition to 8 percent of the system’s revenue.
Council President Thomas Tafelski said the extension is somewhat of a stopgap measure through the winter months until city officials complete an assessment on what kind of cost savings could be realized if certain aspects of the system were administered publicly.
The changes again were accompanied by comments from Councilman Douglas Thomas, who adamantly has opposed the paid-parking system since its inception. Thomas said the latest changes to the system show that it was a failure to begin with.
“This council should go on record and admit this mistake,” he said. “One of the policies of good government is to admit when a mistake has been made.”
On the development front, the council voted to waive $22,000 in water fines and penalties tied to a tract of low-income housing developments in the city’s south end. The fees were waived because the three developments, commonly known as Ferney, Lapeer and Salina Gardens, recently entered a court-ordered receivership, and the fees are tied to the development’s builder and former owner, Sam Arabbo.
The need for a waiver is indicative of the troubles that have plagued the development since it was built nearly 15 years ago as part of a federal pilot project. Under the terms of the project, the developer was to lease the 33 units for 15 years and then sell them in order to attain certain incentives.
But officials say the development has been a nightmare for occupants. Bill Philips, speaking on behalf of the receiver, Windham Group LLC, said each of the 33 units was in violation of city building codes on rental properties when the properties were transferred.
Among the issues that have plagued the units are mold growth stemming from no roof ventilation, basement flooding due to improper grading and windows set at ground level. Mayor John O’Reilly Jr. said there also have been problems with sump pumps that were only installed in the first place because of the builder’s insistence on making the basements 8 feet deep – deeper than any other Dearborn basement.
“These have been 33 troubled properties for a very long time,” he said. Phillips said he already has completed work on nine of the 11 units he has been granted funding for, and that when additional funding is released it probably will take three months to complete restoration on the remaining units.