Both sides speak out

By Chuck Gibson

LOVELAND, OH (March 24, 2022) – The question of a parking problem in Loveland has been a topic of debate for many years; maybe even decades now. A proposed parking garage is at the center of the debate today.

David Kennedy presented the vision for Loveland at the 2022 State of the Region update (Chuck Gibson)

At the Little Miami River Chamber Alliance State of the Region event held February 7, City Manager Dave Kennedy presented a vision for Loveland for 2022. Conspicuously absent from his presentation of development, improvement, and maintenance plans was any mention of the proposed parking garage. Only 12 days later, on Saturday, February 19, as council met in a “goal-planning” session inside, a “rally” of citizens in favor of placing the garage plan up for public vote organized by Lauren Enda was held outside City Hall in Historic Downtown Loveland. 

In the aftermath of that rally, (some labeled it a protest) at least one story appeared on a media site referencing a video interview with Loveland Mayor Kathy Bailey. It was an interview she agreed to do for the college class project of a local student, but it was mistakenly made public.. It stirred some controversy regarding Loveland council members “promising” business owners a parking garage would be built.

City Manager Dave Kennedy presented a parking garage update during the Loveland City Council meeting Tuesday, March 22, 2022. It was part of updates he plans to present at least once each month. Tuesday the topic was the design process for the parking facility to be built on property behind City Hall and beside The Works restaurant with entrance access off or S.R. 48. It highlighted the work with DESMAN Design Management including an initial rendering from late 2021 which has now been modified to relocate a first level entrance away from First Street. Additional modifications include a redesigned façade more suited to the historic appearance of downtown and in line with the Historic Preservation Design Guidelines adopted by the city in 2021. The proposal calls for a two-story structure not to exceed the height of any existing buildings in the area. Plans include solar panels for the facility and electric vehicle charging stations.  (Watch Kennedy’s full presentation HEREnote: starts approx. 1:18:54)

Current revised facade image for proposed Loveland Parking garage (Courtesy City of Loveland)

“We’re starting to see the benefits from what was a two-year process developing design guidelines and boundaries,” said Kennedy, during a sit-down interview with Loveland Beacon earlier this month. “That certainly isn’t going to comfort the people who don’t . . . (want a parking garage) I respect everyone’s opinion. The fact there is another layer of review helped us realize you only get one bite at the apple and to make sure that façade looks correct and fits as integral.”

The debate reaches far deeper than the appearance and placement of entrance ramps for a garage. City Councilman Tim Butler readily admits he was a supporter and yes vote on council regarding the purchase of the property which is the proposed cite for the garage in 2019. A lot has happened since then. Butler has taken a different stance on the issue of a parking garage for Loveland

Tim Butler reelected to Loveland Council as top vote-getter. (Provided)

“This goes back to, really, August of 2019 is when it started,” said Butler. “It’s almost 30 months since the process first started. That’s when the property was first secured. Certainly, you go back and look at the record; I was a yes vote for the purchase of that property.”

He was a supportive vote for the first few months of activity related to planning for a proposed parking garage.  Not a lot happened related to the garage in those first few months. For Butler, there were a couple things that happened right after that; COVID and he opened the family-owned MILE 42 Coffee in Loveland. Opening the coffee shop brought him downtown a lot more than he was before.

“We opened in February of 2020 and COVID occurs mid-March,” Butler explained. “That’s when things started shutting down. I started to wonder. I’m seeing the amount of time people are in downtown.”

Butler conducted his own survey of parking availability every night. It led him to some conclusions and more questions about when, and if, there is a parking problem downtown.

“I started to conclude certainly parking is an issue on summer weekends and events, but does that merit the construction of a multimillion dollar garage in downtown Loveland to accommodate occasional needs for parking,” Butler asked. “I started raising those questions in open council.”

He also sought discussion of the financial implications as early as spring of 2020. Since then he has been a much more skeptical voice about the need for the garage and the financial implications that come with it. He cites his duty as an elected official for raising those concerns.

“I feel, as elected representatives we need to be stewards of taxpayer money,” said Butler. “This would be a big expense. Granted, we’re trying to get grants to offset various parts of that expense, but even under that grant scenario, if it comes through, we’ll see, we’ll be going in the market for four to six million dollars of taxpayer financed bonds.”

By his own calculations, financing the garage could cost the city about $360,000 annually. That number is based on his Butler’s personal research, not from any City of Loveland officials. He wants the actual cost determined and considered before city leaders make a commitment to build a parking garage. The new public works building, a planned new fire station and “significant” needs in the water system, openly presented in the finance commission have to be budgeted.

“Pipes that, as Dave Kennedy likes to say, are older than Teddy Roosevelt,” Butler said. “Those are what I would put in the category of needs for municipal government. People expect you to have a functioning fire department, a functioning police department, a good healthy water system, roads which are functional; we’ve obviously got a traffic issue. We have to make decisions as stewards of the taxpayer dollars. Where is the best allocation of limited funds?”

Butler does not believe the parking garage will generate the revenue necessary to offset the cost of financing construction. Neither does Dave Kennedy expect that kind of revenue for the garage. That money will have to come from somewhere else. The question is: Where? Does the garage satisfy a need? Would it be a prudent and wise decision?

“My push to council is we need to assess this as an elected body,” said Butler. “We need to really talk about this and involve the public.”

Lauren Enda, Loveland resident is leading the charge for a public vote on the proposed Loveland parking garage (Photo courtesy Lauren Enda)

Lauren Enda agrees and has been actively calling for studies to assess not only the need, but the financial impact on the taxpaying citizens of Loveland, the environmental impact, and the intrusiveness of the structure itself. Enda is retired from a position with the Federal Government that took her all around the world. She chose Loveland as the community where she wanted to retire and moved here in August 2020. Upon settling here, she tried to volunteer with the city, but COVID prevented her from becoming involved until she was invited to the join and participate in the Loveland U. program.

“I am a very civic-minded person. I believe in community a lot,” said Enda. “I went through that program which was wonderful except they kind of belittled anyone who did not want rampant growth and unbridled building to the city. I don’t want rampant growth. I want growth that is well-reasoned, well thought out, planned for; put some systems engineering into that to think it all through.”

It was during a break at one of those Loveland U. meetings where she first heard of a parking garage for Loveland.

“I was thoroughly shocked,” Enda said. “That was my introduction to the parking garage in Loveland.”

Enda pointed to that moment leading her directly to becoming an active voice opposing the parking garage in Loveland today. She says residents have been ignored, while business owners and other government leaders have been called upon to provide endorsements for a grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA).  It is a $3.2 million grant for which the garage project is eligible according to Kennedy. They worked on it most of the summer.

David Kennedy, Loveland City Manager (File)

“The application was submitted in the fall,” said Kennedy. “After it was submitted, they (the EDA) did their cursory review and requested some additional information. We put that together and it has been relatively quiet. I reached out to my main contact with the EDA a couple weeks ago. They simply said it is still in the pipeline.”

Pushing for an answer won’t help the process and, though Kennedy does not know when an answer will come, he says it could come now, or much later. Enda has raised questions about another grant application made by the city. That one is for $900,000 from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). It is currently on hold being reviewed by the ODNR. 

Enda claims questions about overall environmental impact and the effect on endangered species should not have been answered by the City Engineer, but were. At first, she wouldn’t say Loveland lied on the application, but rather they filled the form out incorrectly.

“I’m not sure if you know why the ODNR is doing a review,” said Enda. “I can tell you it’s because I called the ODNR. The question is why did Loveland lie? I can’t understand why people aren’t up in arms. Loveland, on a $900K grant application, lied. They lied. They said it is not going to be on a flood plain and it is. They lied on an application for a grant for $900,000.” 

According to Enda, the planned garage would sit at an elevation of 588 feet. The flood plain goes up to 590 feet of elevation. She says the information is available from Dave Kennedy and is on the EDA application (page 220 of a 400 page application). Kennedy fully supports City Engineer Cindy Klopfenstein while acknowledging there have been no outside formal engineering traffic studies or any full environmental impact study. He says the City Engineer has been involved every step of the way.

The original rendering of the proposed parking garage (Courtesy City of Loveland)

“She has been in the design and storm water components every step of the way,” said Kennedy. “She was in on the geotechnical studies before the city purchased the property. Cindy has not done a full traffic analysis. She’s been involved with Desman throughout the process. Has she done a full environmental study on the project? No. Will she stand there and pump her fist to make sure we meet every storm water requirement? Yes. Cindy is free to do her job and I don’t think in a million years Cindy would ever deviate from requirements. She won’t cut corners and won’t allow us to cut corners.”

Enda wants the studies. She says there is no data in any study to support a $10 million garage. She wants the city to do the studies, to look at other options like a shuttle, a trolley or valet parking like the fire association offered before the pandemic struck. The city has over an acre dedicated to parking which she sees as a parking management problem, not a need for a parking garage. She won’t say she’s entirely opposed to a garage.

“What I want to say is I want the residents of Loveland to vote on it,” Enda said. “If the residents say no garage, great. If the residents say let’s build a garage, great. I am one person. The reason I am doing this is they are not allowing every other person to talk. The only way we can be assured this council is going to listen to the residents is a vote.”

Another view of the revised parking garage design (Courtesy City of Loveland)

Tim Butler has no regrets about changing his position from his early support of the project to now consistently raising questions about the project. In fact, he successfully ran for re-election to council on the issue last November securing the highest vote total. He’s been clear and consistent on his position for nearly two years since beginning to ask questions. He was clear in this interview that, if asked today, he does not support the garage. His vote would be no.

“We haven’t demonstrated to our taxpayers that A, there is a need and B, this is the most effective use of your taxpayer dollars to satisfy that need. Does it really impact in a positive way the flow of traffic and parking? I think the argument need versus want; we need to identify a traffic solution.” – Tim Butler, Loveland Councilman 

On that note, Butler points to ongoing discussions in goal-planning to begin the process of identifying a second bridge as a key initiative. He believes the planning for a garage is not too far along and is confident the city will respond to public input. How does that happen? That is the referendum Lauren Enda is working for. The rally on February 19th netted 75 signatures in just 90 minutes supporting the call for a referendum. She is passionate about having the taxpaying citizens of Loveland heard.

An early Desman Design Management Formal Cost Estimate for proposed Loveland Parking Garage (Provided)

“As an individual resident of Loveland, I am opposed to the garage,” said Enda. “If it goes on a referendum, I will vote against it. I want the residents to decide on the garage. So should every council member and so should every resident of Loveland. This is a big deal. This will change Loveland. It will have a cascading effect on every future decision. This is a massive decision.”

Getting it on a ballot, having a referendum for the people to vote is a legal process that must wait until there is actually a contract for the building of a parking garage. For now, Enda will continue to stand up and speak at council meetings. She finds it odd council members have not reached out to her individually and is considering reaching out to meet with them one-on-one, but does not believe they will accept her invitation to meet. Kennedy says it is a city manager form of government and he needs to present the information to the public.

“I need to make these presentations effective,” Kennedy said. “I’m never going to sell everybody on it and I know these things are expensive. The project was always going to be expensive even if we simply put in a blacktop parking lot because the earth needs to be lowered; we know that. We do think these things through.”

The debate rages on. Questions remain. There is passion on both sides. The city waits for answers on grant applications. Councilman Tim Butler wants more data and consideration of public opinion. Lauren Enda wants the public to have a vote, to be heard on the matter. So, parking garage: Yes or No?  You decide. That’s the goal of those raising concerns about the proposed parking garage for Loveland.