This story was updated Nov. 10 to correct data regarding parking rates.
The ever-present issue of parking in Oak Park has returned to the village board, which is considering raising parking garage and meter rates in an effort to gnaw away at the $22.4 million the village owes in parking related bond debt.
The amount of free parking time offered to people who park in the village-owned garages will also be scaled back. These potential changes are not at all supported by Oak Park’s small business community.
“The main service that the village continues to chip away at is its parking downtown,” said Jason Smith, co-owner of the Book Table, 1045 Lake St.
The first reading of the proposed ordinance to change parking costs occurred at the Nov. 7 village board meeting, where Smith and others spoke out against changing the parking fee structure and expressed disappointment at not being given earlier notice of the potential changes. The second reading is scheduled for the Monday before Thanksgiving.
The village plans to use revenue from its parking fund to pay off the debt, which must be complete by 2040. To do that, the cost of parking must be raised, according to village staff.
The parking fund is an enterprise fund, which means it is managed like a business, unlike the village’s other funds which gain revenue through taxation. Revenue from the parking fund is generated through user fees, such as people paying to park at a metered spot downtown.
Currently, Holley Court, the Avenue and Lake and Forest parking garages allow 90 minutes of free parking. That will likely be changed to 45 minutes as of Jan. 1 and through fiscal year 2024, under the new ordinance. Originally, the village board intended to allow only 30 minutes of free parking time but raised it slightly in light of complaints from the business community.
The cost goes up from there, with a $2 fee to park between one and two hours. The cost to park in those garages increases based on the number of hours parked. Parking for 10 to 24 hours will cost $16. Quarterly permit parking fees for those garages will also be increased by $25 by April 1.
For the village’s 1,500 metered and pay-by-plate parking spaces, people pay $1 per hour currently. Village staff has recommended raising those rates as well to $2 per hour for the first three hours and then to $6 per hour for each hour there. Staff has also recommended increasing pay-by-plate parking rates by $0.25 per 15 minutes in high-demand parking areas effective Jan. 1.
Staff used comparison parking fee data from Forest Park and Evanston during its presentation to the village board. Smith called that comparison out while making his public comment.
“Those are our competition,” he said.
In making it more difficult to park in a village where parking is already difficult, many of the business owners expressed fears that people would be less likely to patronize their businesses out of inconvenience.
It was also argued that the proposed new structure precludes people from spending whole days exploring the offerings of Oak Park’s downtown and downtown-adjacent districts.
“Let’s take a step back a moment and talk about why businesses are located downtown in the first place,” said Smith. “It was the idea that you could see a movie, go to a restaurant, shop at one or more stores, do lunch and just wander around and shop.”
Members of the business community took issue that the village was not taking their interests into account when considering changing the parking ordinance. The village board first directed staff Oct. 3 to develop an amendment to the ordinance, but staff was criticized for doing limited community outreach. Staff had a call with business owners last Friday to discuss the changes, but for some, it was too little too late.
“I personally feel a little blindsided by this,” said Michael Schiff, owner of Stride Fitness, 1004 Lake St. “I know there have been meetings and discussions, but certainly nothing to this extent has been presented to the whole of the community.”
The village board will resume the parking discussion Nov. 21, where it will have to weigh the needs of Oak Park’s business community with their duties to be fiscally responsible.
“There’s nothing that’s ever going to make everybody happy,” said Village President Vicki Scaman. “Trust me, it’s the first thing that you learn after you are elected.”