Seniors center, city at odds over parking lot use

By Corene Brisendine

Officials of the Riley County Seniors Service Center and the City of Manhattan disagree on who should be allowed to park in the parking lot northeast of the center.

The disagreement began in June when the center went to the city to get permission to sublet the lot, 321 N. Fourth, for a Wednesday evening farmer’s market. It’s reaching critical mass now as the two sides negotiate terms of a new lease to replace the one that would otherwise automatically renew Jan. 1. Jami Ramsey, center director, is also concerned about the impact of the opening of a new apartment complex across Fourth Street on the lot. Ramsey said she is afraid that if the lot is not securely under control of the seniors center, seniors might have a hard time finding parking because of spillover from the apartments.

In June, the city informed the center’s board members that the lot was not included in the center’s lease agreement and therefore the center could not sublet the parking lot.

The lot was built in 1992 as a joint effort between the center and the city. The center had borrowed $75,000 from the city to expand its facilities in 1990.

By 1992, the center had raised the funds to pay the loan back. But after completion of the expansion, the center’s board members noticed it needed more parking. So board members went back to the city and asked the commission to have the loan forgiven to facilitate purchase of the property to the northeast of the center for $83,502. They say it was   the intent to turn the property into a parking lot for the senior center.

The commission in 1992 agreed, but also stipulated the property be turned over to the city so it could acquire a Community Development Block Grant to build the parking lot without incurring any further expense to the senior center or the city. When the grant application fell through, center officials wrote a letter to the city agreeing to sign over the lots and giving the city an additional $20,000 for construction. The city approved an additional $36,026 of its own funds for the lot.

Center officials say a 20-year record of maintaining and cleaning the parking lot underscores their claim that the lot is and always has been part of the senior center. Ramsey said she was never made aware the lot had a different address than that of the center. Some users of the center and affiliates of local senior organizations have been circulating petitions urging the city to protect the senior center in any revised lease agreement. She said thus far they have collected about 100 signatures.

City officials say the lot is a municipal parking, which means it’s open to anyone, and that the senior center can lay no particular claim to its spaces. First, the center’s lease was never changed to include the parking lot, even though the lot was “folded” into the PUD that also includes the senior center, the parking lot and the Manhattan Housing Authority. Second, there was no contract signed between the city and the senior center giving the center any more rights to the lot than any other community member. Third, if the city had intended the lot to be for the exclusive use by the center, signs would have been added stating it was for senior center parking only. Finally, most municipal parking lots in the city are not designated with signs. A lot on the corner of Fifth and Humboldt is, but it is the exception.

Ramsey is currently negotiating a new lease agreement with the city in hopes of preserving at least a portion of the parking spaces for the seniors.

“I’m all right with sharing,” Ramsey said. “As long as our folks come first.”

She said the city is willing to have the lot to be designated for senior parking only from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but would require that the center install the signs, foot the bill for towing any violators, and continue to clean and maintain the lot. 

Ramsey said this would be a problem if people chose to park in the lot during the winter and it snows. She said she has always paid to have the ice and snow removed from the lot, but it is done at 2 a.m., when no one is parked there. If people park their cars in the lot overnight, she said she cannot guarantee the lot will be cleaned.

As for others using the lot, Ramsey said she has always made the southerly most spots open and available for housing authority workers to park there because most of the housing authority’s parking lot is signed and numbered for the residents living in the towers leaving the workers and visitors no place to park.

Ramsey said she is afraid that when Strasser Village apartments across Fourth Street are complete, some residents will park in the lot, leaving seniors scrambling for parking up to two blocks away. Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager and leading the negotiations, said the apartments were designed with adequate parking. According to the city’s design plat, there are three parking lots behind the apartments and parking available directly in front of the apartments on Fourth Street.

“That doesn’t mean no one will ever park in the lot next to the senior center,” Palmer said. “But it is unlikely.”

Steve Zilkie, senior planner for the zoning office for the city, said the parking for the apartments were designed to “maximize parking to the greatest use.” He said the parking lot behind the apartments holds 71 spots specifically for the tenants, and there are an additional 29 lots included around the site for more parking. He said the apartment complex has about 71 units, making the parking ration 1 to 1 in back, and the additional 29 spots bring the parking ratio up to about 1.3 to 1 built into the design of the apartment complex.

Palmer said the city and the center are close to an agreement on the disputed lot, and she hopes to have a new lease agreement to bring before city commission on Tuesday, when commissioners will either accept or reject the proposal.

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