These four parking spots on Main Street will be removed as part of construction of the new Carroll County Jail. (Photo by Rebecca McKinsey)
These four parking spots on Main Street will be removed as part of construction of the new Carroll County Jail. (Photo by Rebecca McKinsey)

August 13, 2019

Four parking spots on Main Street will be removed to accommodate Carroll County’s new jail in an uneasy agreement between the county and City of Carroll reached Monday.

City officials agreed during Monday’s City Council meeting to relinquish the parking spaces, located on the east side of Main Street to the north of the intersection of Main and 5th streets, in part because of the county’s agreement to consider a “cantilever” structure on the two garage doors that will face Main Street in the new law-enforcement center, which will include both the new Carroll County Jail and the county sheriff’s office operations.

The discussion came about in part because of the recent rediscovery of a 1973 easement agreement between the city and county related to “city complex beautification” in the area next to the county courthouse where the jail will be constructed. The agreement recently was re-discovered, and city leaders ultimately approved an adjustment Monday that removed any question that might arise that the Law Enforcement Center can be built in that area.

The proposed cantilever would inset the garage doors further into the building, rather than having them sitting flush with the sidewalk, removing law-enforcement traffic from the sidewalk and street more quickly.

County leaders included the cantilevers as an alternate option on the bid proposals sent out to contractors. Bids are due back to the county Thursday. Early estimates on the cantilever option predicted it would add about $30,000 to the $9 million project. Although adding in the cantilever would cost the county more, it wouldn’t sacrifice the county’s parking spaces beneath the building.

“To me, if it’s $30,000, $50,000, $100,000, that’s worth the investment,” Councilwoman Carolynn Siemann said of removing law-enforcement traffic from the streets and sidewalk more efficiently with the cantilevers. “What is a life worth?”

Siemann also proposed modifying the most-recent jail plans to include, in addition to a south-side entrance to the center, just one driveway entrance facing Main Street, rather than two as currently is being proposed. That change, she said, would allow the four parking spots on Main Street being discussed to stay.

However, county officials said, that would restrict traffic flow in the jail area, especially for larger vehicles such as ambulances, forcing law-enforcement vehicles to back into traffic rather than driving straight through the U-shaped path created by two driveway areas. One entrance and exit point, rather than two, doesn’t work structurally for the building, Carroll County Sheriff Ken Pingrey said.

“You can back up into anybody,” Siemann countered. “You can back up into anyone in a grocery parking lot.”

She also noted that the preliminary designs accompanied with the referendum information for the jail only mentioned one driveway facing Main Street.

“This is the plan you sold to the public, and the public that’s contacting me, they’re saying this isn’t how the referendum was sold,” Siemann said. “This is what you showed for months and months.

“I wonder why, if this ended up being such a flawed plan, that you stayed with it.”

But county leaders said the plan included with the referendum plans was preliminary, noting it’s typical to limit design costs in any project before a referendum; the extra driveway is a feature that came up with more study after the referendum was approved, Pingrey said.

“Is the library going to be identical to what was sold to the public, verbatim?” he asked.

Supervisor Neil Bock added, “I think you’re taking the conceptual plan and blowing it out of proportion.”

Siemann said she has heard from business owners and residents who don’t want to lose the parking spots.

“That’s very important to our retail,” she said. “It’s very important to people who talked to me who shop in downtown Carroll. And we can’t afford to lose that foot traffic. … People’s perception is reality, and they’re upset. Maybe to you the four parking spaces don’t mean a whole lot.”

Jacob Fiscus, owner of Photography by Fiscus on Main Street, across the street from the parking spaces that would be approved, spoke to council members Monday evening and said he’d spoken with every business owner in that vicinity about the issue.

“We unanimously have concern losing those spots,” he said. “Losing four more makes it harder for us and our employees. It’s unanimous; we’re concerned and would like to keep the four parking spots.”

County leaders noted that the entire courthouse parking lot is open to the public.

“The biggest problem I see, we’ve been a very good neighbor to a lot of people, and now we’re taking it away and they’re sour,” Supervisor Rich Ruggles said. “And I’m sorry that happened. Maybe it’s our fault. Maybe we were too good to them for too long.”

Ruggles added that he’s concerned that trying to reconfigure parking and traffic in the jail area will detrimentally delay the project.

“You have us trapped in another six-month problem and probably another 10 percent raise in cost,” he said. “We will have to either reevaluate or not build, and not building is not going to be a very good answer.”

Ruggles and Bock noted that members of the public have had several options to speak with the Board of Supervisors about parking concerns and haven’t, including at a recent public hearing on the project’s proposed plans and cost on July 29.

“There was not one single comment,” Bock said. “Not one. We’ve sure been chumped there.”

But Fiscus said he would have attended the meeting had he known the plans had been modified.

“I was assuming we were going with what was in the referendum,” he said. “That was my biggest concern, was parking, and I thought, ‘We still have those street spots.’ I didn’t know this until last week. … You want to talk about feeling sour; you’re taking even more parking from us. We feel sour as well.”

City and county leaders also bandied over how busy Main Street is, how often law-enforcement vehicles would be going in and out of the center adjacent to Main Street and how that would affect foot and car traffic.

“We’ve talked about backing into cars; what about driving into pedestrians?” Siemann asked. “We have people pushing baby buggies, walking dogs, driving bikes — we’re talking about three driveways.”

Councilman LaVern Dirkx said he recently sat down at the affected area for four 30-minute sessions and recorded the number of walking and driving passersby, with the following results:

— Thursday afternoon: 10 pedestrians, 188 cars.

— Friday morning: six pedestrians, 120 cars.

— Friday midday: 12 pedestrians, 188 cars.

— Friday evening: zero pedestrians, 130 cars.

Additionally on midday Friday, Dirkx said he saw several groups of adults and children from area daycares walking in that area.

“The library’s not built yet,” he said. “There’ll be more traffic.”

Pingrey said that much of the traffic in and out of the law-enforcement center will take place at night, when foot and street traffic are greatly reduced. He also noted that those driving in and out of the law-enforcement center will be slow and careful rather than shooting out into pedestrian or street traffic.

County leaders agreed to look at the bid proposals for the cantilever option, although they didn’t guarantee Monday they would incorporate cantilevers into the jail building.

“I’d hope that after this conversation, (county supervisors) would take that into advisement and there’d be more weight (on the cantilevers) because of the concerns,” Mayor Eric Jensen said.

City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver also noted that the cantilever option protects more of the right-of-way on Main Street, allowing for more options with development on the street in the future.

The county already has made concessions to the city while modifying the jail plans, county leaders said, including by incorporating parking on the lower level of the building, a change to the original plans that keeps more city parking intact outside, and adding the possibility of cantilevers to the bid proposals.

We’ve been bending over on this whole project,” Supervisor Gene Meiners said. “We’ve met with the staff and mayor and some of you. We’ve been making concessions all through this thing. I think we’re at the point that we’re concessioned out.”