Whether downtown Homewood has adequate parking has been a concern among residents for years, and to some, the proposal to construct a residential building on the village hall parking lot will make the problem worse.
Village officials have cited a parking study and acquisition of additional parking space in recent years in an attempt to allay fears.
The village board voted on July 25 to approve a letter of intent with HCF Homewood II to take preliminary steps toward building a five-story, 59-unit apartment building on the parking lot at 2024 Chestnut Road.
A number of residents spoke at the meeting to ask questions about the project, and concerns about the loss of parking spaces was a common theme.
Maggie Gosselin said she had recently participated in a focus group as part of the village’s current process of developing a new transit-oriented development master plan for the downtown areas.
“One of the recurring things that was brought up over and over again was the lack of parking for people to come and actually park and walk around the downtown Homewood area,” she said. “I know we have street parking. but not everyone is comfortable doing parallel parking, so having that type of parking lot is really essential to bringing people into downtown Homewood and staying in downtown Homewood.”
Carrie Bonanotte offered two concerns. She has friends with mobility issues who might not be able to attend village events hosted at Martin Square if there isn’t parking close by.
Mayor Rich Hofeld assured her that the accessible parking spots in the village hall lot would not be affected by the new development.
Bonanotte, who leads the local Spotlight Performance Academy, also cited future improvements in arts facilities that could be impacted by a lack of parking.
“I know coming down the road is the renovation of the Homewood auditorium for the performing arts center,” she said. “Where are the hundreds of people that are going to be drawn to those events going to park?”
Economic Development Director Angela Mesaros said the village commissioned a parking study in 2018 that not only tallied the available parking at that time, but reported on usage patterns.
According to the report, there were 260 parking spaces in public lots, 214 on-street public spaces and 1,049 spaces in private lots in the study area, which was bounded by Ridge Road on the south, Gottschalk Avenue on the east, the railroad tracks on the west and the Harwood/Dixie intersection on the north.
Parking in public lots peaked at 81% full on Sept. 29, 2018, which included overlapping village events, the weekly farmers’ market and Fall Fest.
Since the study was conducted, the village has expanded parking capacity in the study area.
The village contracted with the former St. Joseph Catholic Parish, now St. John Neumann, to have access to about 45 spaces evenings and some weekend times in its lot across Dixie Highway from village hall. According to Village Manager Napoleon Haney, the agreement was intended to provide additional parking while the village was in the process of obtaining the commuter lots.
Now that the village has acquired the commuter lot on Harwood Avenue across the street from the village hall lot an additional 120 spaces are available for public parking evenings and weekends. Renewal of the agreement with the church currently is on hold, Haney said.
“We also have an awesome relationship with Pastor Aristil and St. John Neumann Church and have met with him on several occasions to discuss various projects and potential partnerships,” he said.
Mesaros mentioned that the village is exploring the possibility of extending the one-way section of Harwood an additional block south and adding diagonal parking spaces there. The number of possible spaces there was not immediately available.
The study listed a capacity of 137 spaces in the village hall lot, including 42 spaces for village staff, 64 for commuters, 16 for public safety vehicles, eight for visitors, two for seniors and five accessible spaces.
Not all the spaces will be replaced by the new building if the project goes forward. The north section of the lot has geothermal wells under it that cannot be disturbed.
Developer Tim Flanagan, whose partnership built the nearly complete Hartford Building at the intersection of Ridge Road and Martin Avenue, hopes to build the apartment building on the village lot. He acknowledged the residents’ concerns.
“In every community in redeveloping in the downtown areas, parking is always an issue,” he said.
Another partner in the project, Mark Carlson, said the early designs of the proposed apartment building include parking on the first level for residents.