Library project passes one test

Parking issue was the easy part

By The Mercury

Though we hope the Manhattan City Commission doesn’t make a habit of ignoring its own zoning regulations, its action Tuesday does little harm and makes possible considerable good.

The good involved the commission’s willingness to focus on the greater good as regards expansion at the Manhattan Public Library. The snag involved the number of parking spaces at the library.

The library parking lot has 64 spaces; zoning requirements for the expansion call for 75 spaces. There’s no place for the parking lot to be expanded, so the issue for commissioners was whether the “public interest” of the expansion outweighed the zoning regulations. It clearly did.

Tuesday’s action was a step forward for the project but didn’t constitute final approval of the expansion or of funding questions.

Additional library parking would be nice but isn’t a dire need. Parking is adequate now, though patrons at times do find the lot full and have to park on an adjacent street. That’s not much of a hardship — and expansion won’t make matters much worse. Library Director Lisa Krupp told commissioners that she asks staff members to park a block or two away during especially busy times. Those occasions might become more frequent.

The commission vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Wynn Butler in the minority. Not surprisingly, his chief objection involved the project’s impact on city debt. That’s understandable, given that the 1.7 mill levy increase that will help fund the project would add $34 to the property taxes of the owner of a $175,000 house. His objection is understandable even if, as Commissioner Jim Sherow noted, debt for the library expansion would effectively replace other municipal debt now being reduced instead of adding to taxpayers’ burden.

But some things are worth financing, and library expansion that would meet the needs of multiple constituencies is one of them.

Indeed, residents ought to be delighted at the growing demand for library services, especially children’s services. Residents also ought to be impressed that the library’s supporters have raised $800,000 — one-third of the expansion’s projected cost — from private sources.

That makes the project more affordable for taxpayers and is indicative of public-private partnerships that have contributed to many advances in this community.

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