Loaded: Paramount asks to co-opt spaces
A row of empty spaces at Court Square reserved for police in 2003 pushed downtown resident Jock Yellott to appeal to City Council.
The result: A new parking ordinance that mandates the city must post any proposed changes to existing parking and allow public comment for 14 days.
The Paramount Theater is the first to take the heat for requesting its own exclusive 24-hour loading zone on Market Street.
"Before, someone would have whispered in a bureaucrat's ear and gotten it done," says Yellott. "I'm awfully glad we're giving people the opportunity to comment."
Yellott took advantage of the new parking ordinance to weigh in with his own comments. He calls the would-be loading zone spaces across the street from the library "some of the most precious spots in the city" because of their proximity to banks, restaurants, and the Downtown Mall.
"A loading zone would make the theater's interest exclusive, and, well paramount," writes Yellott to traffic engineer Ken Keena.
"Nothing short of criminal" is how Mary Cockerille describes the plan in an email to City Hall.
Nor are the Paramount's neighbors on Third Street who suffered during the two years of construction particularly sympathetic to the renovated theater's request for its own 24-hour loading zone.
"That's ridiculous," says Mike Rodi, co-owner of Rapture. "On the one hand, they do obviously need immediate access for loading. On the other, so do we all."
Rodi has had contractors cancel maintenance because they couldn't find a place to park.
"We don't have a loading zone," says Third Street salon-owner Tee Tee Jackson. "Our suppliers can't get down here. They have to walk."
Paramount executive director Chad Hershner must see that shows go on, and he has had to deal with the panic of "a 53-foot tractor-trailer and tour bus" arriving with no place to park.
"This is truly just for loading and unloading for the shows we have," he says. "Sometimes that's six days a week." And he stresses that the spaces are not for employee parking.
Rodi predicts that if approved, the loading zone will be unused 50 percent of the time, especially when the theater season ends in May.
But Hershner foresees renting the Paramount out in the summer. For instance, Monticello High School plans to have its prom on the Paramount stage.
Jefferson-Madison Regional Library Director John Halliday is unperturbed by the Paramount's loading zone bid. He says the Paramount is a "terrific neighbor" and that library patrons can get parking validated for two hours at the city garages on Market and Water streets.
Cockerille doesn't think that plan works for older people who may not easily be able to walk several blocks from the parking garage. "It's a schlep also for a person with small kids," she adds.
"As a library patron, I find it disheartening that the Paramount is big enough to ask for something and probably get it," she says. She's so galvanized by the loading zone request that she's been distributing flyers around town and is forming a group, Citizens for Public Access in Charlottesville.
Cockerille also would like to see some changes to the new parking ordinance. "The public forum for parking changes was not widely publicized," she says. "The only way to know is to walk up and see them. People who are driving by can't see them."
The petitions to change parking are posted on the city's website– but they're buried about four screens in from the home page.
"To be honest, I'd like to see something up front with all public notices," says traffic engineer Keena, to whom falls the task of reviewing all petitions to change parking.
The public's 14 days on this change last until February 22. And, reminds Yellott, "The ordinance invites notice and comment, but it's not like a referendum where the majority wins. The traffic engineer has the final decision. Regardless of what you or I think is a good idea, he can go ahead and do what he thinks is a good idea."
Actually, says Keena, his decision can be overturned by the city manager. And he acknowledges the high profile nature of this request.
Several citizens propose that the prime street real estate remain two-hour parking, and that the Paramount– like funeral homes and Starr Hill– reserve the spaces when needed.
"That's what we've been doing up to this point," says Hershner. But not everyone honors the cones put out to reserve the spaces, he says.
Parking woes aside, Hershner reports that Paramount ticket sales have far exceeded expectations, and at press time, 17 shows have sold out.
Now if he can just find a place to park those tractor-trailers and tour buses.
Now citizens can comment on parking changes– if they happen to walk by and see the notice.
PHOTO BY LAUREN BROOKS
The Paramount wants nearly half the block behind it on Market Street for a loading zone. Other local businesses would like to have their own loading zones, too.
PHOTO BY LAUREN BROOKS