Some residents, business owners feel parking crunch in Elburn

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 9:18 a.m. CDT

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ELBURN – Sitting down to breakfast at Kountry Kettle in downtown Elburn, Angela Filippin said she understood it might sound “really goofy” that the village has an issue with parking.

Filippin grew up in the village but has been going to college in Chicago, a place where residents view parking and walking differently. In Elburn, she said, people “don’t really walk very much.”

“If I have to walk 10 blocks, I will,” she said of city life. “Are you kidding? No one here would ever do that.”

In Elburn, some downtown business owners say they have felt crunched for parking since a 40-space lot on the north end of downtown – property owned by the Community Congregational Church – was closed last spring. That eliminated a reliable parking option for those who frequent the village’s downtown businesses.

There are parking spots in lots a block east on North Street and a 60-space lot behind the American Legion building. Jim Elgar, with the American Legion in Elburn, stressed that the lot is not a public lot, but the legion wants to support downtown businesses, so parking there is allowed. There are restrictions. For instance, truck parking is not allowed.

Business owners say some customers will complain about having to walk after they park. They may not be aware of parking options and drive past the area if they don’t see a spot open.

Sitting across from Filippin at Kountry Kettle, Sugar Grove resident Andy Collins said the parking is an issue in Elburn. Collins said he regularly visits the downtown area, but there are times he’s gone elsewhere because he doesn’t want to deal with parking and walking.

“It stops you from coming here as often,” said Collins, adding, “if they could reopen that parking lot, it would be really helpful to businesses.”

The issues with that? Defining who “they” are and deciding whether it’s affordable. The church has the lot listed for sale at $199,900. Randy Ream, who owns Ream’s Elburn Market, considered buying it, but he didn’t want it to be a mere lot. If he were going to spend such a sum and an additional $40,000 for improvements, he said he wanted to build a patio and put up signs.

“I would want something for my investment,” he said.

He said he felt stifled by the village’s zoning laws, which would restrict his plans. He said it appeared officials might consider changes that would allow him to do what he wanted, but they were “not really in a hurry.”

Village President Dave Anderson pointed out that there are options for parking. Many will park in the lot near Schmidt’s Towne Tap and Knuckleheads on the south end of the downtown. And there is parking directly in front of the businesses, along Route 47. Anderson said when he was running a grocery store years ago downtown, he never thought there was a parking problem and there were more businesses then. He said the village’s residents shouldn’t have to pay to purchase the lot.

“We’d all like to walk right up to the front door, everybody,” Anderson said. “But at whose expense?”

Scott High, who runs Tri County Coins, said parking isn’t a problem. He said a bigger problem is the potential that the proposed Elburn Station development, which is expected to bring thousands of new residents to the town, would drive traffic away from the downtown area.

No business owners contacted said they wanted the village to buy the lot. Kevin Schmidt, who runs Schmidt’s Towne Tap, declined to speak for the story. His father, Elburn Trustee Jerry Schmidt, said he would like discussion from the Village Board on the topic.

“I certainly feel that Elburn should help with the businesses and that parking,” Jerry Schmidt said.

Some business owners say there should be more of an effort made to find solutions. Annette Theobald, who runs Paisano’s Pizza and Grill in Elburn, said customers often mention a lack of parking. She said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Maybe it means more people are coming to Elburn, and businesses are drawing more people,” she said.

Paisano’s is strictly a carryout business, so parking doesn’t affect it greatly. She said it could become an issue for her soon because Paisano’s owners are buying a building across the street, and they intend to open a sit-down restaurant there. She said the situation can be improved greatly if there were signs posted that pointed out where parking was available.

“I don’t know why everybody’s butting heads on this,” she said. “We need to come together as a community and figure this out.”

Justin Smitherman, an American Family Insurance agent, recently moved into the downtown area. He said the parking issues cause an inconvenience.

“Without a question,” he said. “I think it hurts the businesses downtown.”

The Rev. Bennett McNeal, pastor of the Community Congregational Church, said there were issues the church had in closing the lot. There are maintenance costs and liability issues. The drainage is a problem, and he said “it’s like a skating rink” when the lot freezes over. But the church is willing to consider options.

Asked whether the church would consider renting the lot to a group of businesses, he said, “I don’t think anything has been ruled out.”

Business owners said they didn’t blame the church for closing the lot, and McNeal wanted to stress that the church is about more than the lot.

“We just feel that what we’re about is, as far as the church is concerned, the matter of being a church, which we’re doing,” he said, adding that the church helps with the food pantry and the annual holiday walk and hosts an annual harvest dinner that raises money for charities. “We’re wanting to make sure that the community knows – and it does know – that we have been very involved with the community. … Those are things that are very important to us.”

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