Plan to end parallel parking on Main St. approved

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK | News-Telegram Managing Editor

June 6, 2007 - How do these words sound: "No more parallel parking on Main Street."

Sweet, huh?

And that's just one of the recommendations from the Downtown Revitalization Board that City Council members gave a nod of approval to at Tuesday's regular monthly meeting.

Johnny Vance, director of community development, said the board had decided the best bet for the street is to make it one-way (traffic would flow west) off of the square and change from parallel parking spaces to angled parking. Both ideas quickly gained the support of the Downtown Business Association, the coalition of merchants in the central business district seeking to improve the area.

"After much discussion, they wanted to send the proposal to the council for approval," Vance said.

New Councilman Gary Spraggins, who served on the Planning and Zoning Commission while the plans were being discussed, said P&Z members had discussed making sure all roads leading to the center of the city would serve as "gateways" to downtown. He asked if the Main Street changes would be a hindrance.

That was something Vance said they planned for, saying signs with courthouse images would be put up at Main and Davis streets that would lead travelers to Connally Street and point them in the right direction.

"I think it will actually make it more inviting and easier for people who aren't from here (to find downtown)," Vance said.

Altering the traffic flow would also do more to incorporate the block between Main, Davis and Connally streets as part of downtown, he said.

City Manager Marc Maxwell also said he wants to see sidewalks repaired after the street work is completed, which should come at about the end of the current budget year, which is in the fall.

The street and sidewalk improvements alone could be enough to stimulate investment in the area, he said.

"When people see hard improvements on the ground, that's when you see the investments (in downtown businesses)," he said.

Expect work on the street to begin after the Fourth of July.

In other business, council members voted to direct the city manager and staff to work to support the Veterans Memorial Committee's plans to build a memorial to Hopkins County service men and women at the Heritage Park area on the downtown square.

Clayton McGraw, chairman of the executive board of the Hopkins County Veterans Memorial Project, said local veterans and others had talked for about a year about building a memorial wall. But they got moving after Staff Sgt. Michael "Chad" Lloyd, the 24-year-old son of Jimmy and Dena Lloyd of Sulphur Springs, was killed in combat in Iraq.

"[We] received the impetus when Chad Lloyd was buried and we saw the great outpouring of support," McGraw said.

The original idea was a memorial wall with the names of both Hopkins County citizens who served their country as well as those who are buried in Hopkins County, such as Lloyd.

But over time, the ideas for the project have grown, especially after the people at Audley Moore Construction brought in architect Charles Jones, who came up with new ideas, said Don Roundtree, a member of the design committee.

Now the group is interested in, as Jones suggested, a "master plan" that would take in the unused portion of the Heritage Park — the seating area, platform, fountain, even the mechanical facilities for the courthouse — and turn it into a broader area for tribute to the fallen heroes.

City Manager Marc Maxwell said that after a few weeks, they began talking about taking a few of the parking spaces in front of the area, and he made it clear he was dead set against that idea.

But city staffers convinced him that in the overall scheme of things, parking was hardly a high priority when compared to the memorial project.

"With my newfound epiphany, I'm growing increasingly excited [about the project]," Maxwell said.

Maxwell suggested the council members consider authorizing funding — "$10,000 or so?" — to "master plan it" and give the committee a better direction. Roundtree added that their goal was also to come up with a memorial that would flow with the design elements of the courthouse.

Councilman Oscar Aguilar pointed out that such a memorial could be a great draw to bring people downtown — "Let's go and see grandpa's name."

"I definitely think it's worth a few parking space," he said.

Council member Gary Spraggins asked if the point was not just to build a memorial, but also to make it a positive draw for downtown and the businesses there.

"Is that what you're saying?" he asked.

"You said it better than I did," Roundtree responded.

Councilman Chris Brown then made a motion to direct the city manager and staff to work to support the memorial committee's efforts. The measure passed unanimously.

Earlier in the meeting, the council passed several ordinances changing zoning in areas annexed last year, including one that was tabled in May.

Johnny Dobson had protested changing his property on Hillcrest Drive from agriculture to light industrial, saying he'd never been informed of the plans to annex his property.

Tuesday, he said he had learned that a certified letter regarding the matter had been signed by a home health aide caring for his wife shortly before she died. He apologized for not realizing he'd been notified of the city's plans, but still expressed his displeasure at the property being rezoned.

"I don't think any of you gentlemen would like an industry next to your home," he said.

NOTES: City Finance Director Peter Karstens warned to expect a jump in health insurance costs, especially with medical inflation in the 35 to 40 percent range; he said a $200,000 to $300,000 increase in health insurance is expected. Maxwell said that's one of the reasons he expects the upcoming city budget is going to be "one of the most difficult, if not the most difficult, budgets since I've been here." ... Maxwell also noted that the city conducted 42 inspections last month, pointing out the work was done by city staff, not outside contractors. "Wilma [Folmar] is back. Her situation is changed and we've hired her back on a part-time basis."

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