BOWLING GREEN - Some homeowners near downtown are urging city council to reject a plan to trade five old houses for 70 new parking spots.
Council will host a public hearing at 6:30 tonight on a proposal to rezone five properties west of the post office from residential to central business district. Council is expected to vote on the measure during its 8 p.m. meeting.
Supporters say the project would eliminate traffic confusion and congestion at the post office and provide more parking for downtown workers and visitors, but opponents say it would carry a price: destroying homes that add to the city's historic character.
Several nearby residents and the director of the Wood County Historical Center stated their case in May when the issue went before the city planning commission. The neighborhood is part of the Boomtown Historic District - a residential area that developed during the city's oil and gas boom in the late 1800s. The district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The planning commission voted 4-3 against rezoning the property, although city council still may approve it.
Councilman Stan Bortel, who chairs the planning, zoning, and economic development committee, said he thinks the plan is good for business. Parking for customers as well as employees is essential for retaining and attracting businesses, he said.
“We don't want people going to Toledo, Findlay, Fremont - you name the place - as opposed to doing their business in Bowling Green,” he said.
Jennifer Ruhe, director of the chamber, said no one wants to see houses torn down, but members agreed the badly needed parking will benefit the city in the long run.
“We feel the additional parking spaces are very important to the future of Bowing Green and the growth of the central business district,” she said. “We do believe parking is a problem especially at peak periods during the day and weekends. We feel this will help us attract more businesses to the downtown.”
Proponents contend that the five houses to be razed are rental properties and have little, if any, historic value.
While some have questioned the role of city law director Mike Marsh in the project - he is a principal in Downtown Parking Associates, which requested the rezoning and introduced the parking lot plan - Mr. Marsh said his intentions are strictly civic.
Downtown Parking Associates, a partnership of Mr. Marsh and local real estate developer Richard Newlove, purchased a house on Pearl Street last year for $85,000 and have options to buy the four along Church Street for about $525,000, Mr. Marsh said.
“If the city wants to purchase the property, we agreed we would turn them over to the city for what we paid,” he said. “The city would complete the [parking lot] plan, which is now just a concept.”
He said the estimated cost of acquiring the property, demolishing the houses, and building the parking lot is about $900,000.
Mr. Marsh said the nonprofit group did the same thing when the city built the parking lot behind the former Kaufman's Restaurant about 10 years ago.
“Part of the reason for it is when the city or any governmental agency comes calling about any property, the price goes up,” he said. “This is a way to try to acquire property at a reasonable price. It's strictly a civic thing.”
“We won't profit,” he added. “It's already cost us a lot of money, probably will cost us a lot more before it's all done.”
And, while opponents said they've been gathering signatures to present to city council, Mr. Marsh said he returned to his office Friday to find that someone had dropped off petitions in support of the parking plan that had “a couple hundred” signatures as well.