A long-standing parking problem in downtown Burlington has been exacerbated by the city’s TIGERT grant project.
As the city of Burlington launches its Transportation Investments for Economic Revitalization grant project, entire blocks of Jefferson Street are closed to traffic, meaning stores can open but shoppers may not have a place to park.
“I’ve got the streets, I’ve got the sidewalks, what I’m missing is enough parking,” said Donna Renteria, owner of Myrtle Vera’s Hallmark. “I would like to add parking. When we’re done, we’ll lose four parking spaces next to our store.”
Spaces outside Hallmark will be lost as the city expands parallel parking along Jefferson Street. Prior to construction, there was a parallel parking lot on the south side of Jefferson Street that ran from Front to Sixth Streets. Along the same stretch of Jefferson Street, on the north side, all parking is at an angle.
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There was a time when parking was a hot topic for city council members. In 2016, the city conducted a parking study and created a parking task force made up of city staff, residents and downtown business owners. However, parking in the city center has not been discussed in recent years.
After opening Myrtle Vera in 2015, the Renterias found the parking situation difficult. Renteria said the traffic problems started from the beginning when the intersection of Central and Jefferson streets was closed last year.
As construction neared the 600 block of Jefferson, traffic was backed up. Currently, due to the street closure, there are no parking spaces near their store. Customers are encouraged to park in the accessible parking lot on Fifth Street, but Renteria noted that many of her elderly customers may not be able to walk that far.
Hallmark currently offers curbside pickup where, if possible, an employee can bring the purchase to customers. You can pay for purchases over the phone with a credit card. Delivery to the city is possible.
“It’s tough,” Renteria said. “Some things will work, but for a lot of people, that’s the type of store you want to go to.”
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Renteria acknowledged that the city has added some parking spaces, but noted that most of them are for those who want to rent a space. According to the city’s website, there are 28 parking spaces for rent in the city center. However, shoppers coming downtown to pick up a few items will see a reduction in free parking.
Another concern about the current parking fixes was voiced by Barbie Jackson, owner of Wake n Bake Breakfast Co.
An important part of Wake n Bake’s customer base is the downtown staff. Jackson said that often these workers only have a few minutes to eat lunch. Because of the construction downtown, Jackson believes workers are avoiding the area for the lunch hour.
Despite this, Jackson feels very lucky. Behind Wake and Bake is a gravel parking lot accessible from Valley Street. However, Jackson noted that not everyone is physically able to drive through the gravel parking lot, especially those with disabilities, who she said are most affected by the lack of parking due to downtown construction.
“They should be able to park nearby,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t matter if (the packing yard) is behind, they have to park nearby.”
Mayor John Billups said technically there will be less on-street parking, but he believes the parking lots are a good option because downtown workers, merchants and residents know that space will always be available to them.