Frustrated residents implore Galena council to address parking issues

GALENA, Ill. — Parking concerns took center stage at this week’s Galena City Council meeting.

Multiple residents called on the city to address ongoing parking issues in the downtown district.

The council ultimately voted to table the discussion until its next meeting on July 12, as Council Members Robert Hahn and Katie Wienen were absent.

Galena resident Ilisa Farrell-Ericsson urged the city to curb the expansion of vacation rentals, which she said has created a parking issue on Bench Street, where she lives. Council members voted earlier this month to maintain the current number of available vacation rental licenses in the city.

Farrell-Ericsson said a lack of off-street parking creates issues for residents, particularly when vacation rental guests are added to the mix.

“Why haven’t you considered the needs of Galena residents that pay taxes, pay rent or wish to attend church on Bench Street?” she asked. “Also, what about employees that work on Main Street?”

Vacation rentals in residential districts are required to have off-street parking if it is feasible on the property, according to City Administrator Mark Moran, but rentals in the downtown commercial district are not required to do so.

Resident Anna Hemm asked city leaders to take a closer look at the council’s decision to close a portion of Main Street to allow for outdoor dining this summer.

“I don’t understand how you did not look ahead when you took away all the parking spaces downtown,” she said. “… I think that the city should have probably foreseen that this was going to be a problem and they should have taken care of it before they closed down the streets.”

Galena officials approved outdoor dining last year to help restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic and voted in December to renew the street closure for 2021. Under the rules, from May to October, there is no parking or vehicle traffic in the 100, 200 and part of the 300 block of North Main Street.

The closure eliminates about 100 parking spaces.

Several residents proposed the construction of a parking ramp, something that Moran said the city has explored in recent years. Factors such as property availability and construction costs would weigh into any decisions the city makes.

“It’s not to say (cost) can’t be overcome,” he said. “I think there are many ways to finance a ramp, and that’s just something we will explore if the council wants to move in that direction.”

After the council voted to table the discussion, Council Member Marc McCoy asked that members “re-examine the outdoor dining” at the next meeting.

“We have Bench Street residents, we have downtown merchants, we have offices and we have other entities that are somewhat adversely affected by our decision to close (Main Street) down,” he said.

Mayor Terry Renner agreed that the city could consider re-opening sections of the street. He described parking as a perennial problem and said the council would work to “alleviate the pain” residents had expressed.

“We’ve got five acres, but we want to put 10 acres of cars in it,” he said.

Moran said the city recently opened a 52-space public lot on Meeker Street, on a site that previously was a public works storage yard. The city also improved an existing parking lot near the new kayak park off of Spring Street/U.S. 20.

Moran added that since the fall of 2020, the city has partnered with St. Mary Catholic Church, 400 Franklin St., to share its parking lot when it is not in use for services. Currently, the lot is available for public use on Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.

“That has opened up 68 more spaces about a block off Main Street,” he said.

Additionally, Moran said, the city is exploring the possibility of operating a shuttle between the downtown district and Depot Park, just across the Spring Street bridge on the east side of the Galena River. He said city staff are working up a proposal for the project, which they hope to present to the City Council in July.

He said such a shuttle service “could possibly be operational yet this season.”