December 18, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
28°F
test

Parking pinched by jazz project

OBERLIN — The future of Oberlin’s quirky downtown looks bright with a new $22 million jazz building planned for the south side of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

122007parking.jpg
CINDY LEISE / CHRONICLE
A sign warns of two-hour parking for customers of merchants in downtown Oberlin.

The only dark cloud is the prospect of more parking woes, merchants say.

“The jazz building is just going to make it a crisis during construction,” said Ruth Aschaffenburg, owner of Bead Paradise II. “Afterwards, we’ll be left with fewer parking spaces.”

Chuck Smith, who runs Smith Furnishing & Floor Coverings Inc., agreed.

“Any parking we lose is too much,” said Smith, whose store features original art, furnishings, a selection of yarn and unusual floor coverings.

The dilemma in bringing the new jazz building downtown is that the world-famous conservatory sits on the western edge of downtown. The new modern building would jut south from the current building and take at least some of the spaces in a parking lot designed for shoppers.

Aschaffenburg said more than 50 percent of her customers come from out of town and many drive an hour or more for beads and unusual women’s apparel.

You also can get your hair colored at a downtown hair salon, but the stylists often have to run out and move your car when the two-hour time limit has elapsed, a store owner said.

There is a limited number of spots along West Lorain Street, just south of Tappan Square.

Merchants also pay a monthly fee to Oberlin Off-Street Parking, which has an estimated 161 spots behind the downtown buildings and just east of the conservatory.

The conservatory has an estimated 119 spots in a parking lot for professors and students, but often instructors and students will pull into the parking lot for shoppers because it is more convenient, according to merchants.

Big signs warn that cars that don’t belong in the Oberlin off-street parking lot will be towed, but that really doesn’t happen very often, said Krista Long, owner of Ben Franklin’s and Mindfair.

Long said she’d like to see someone look into the possibility of a parking garage, but there are problems with that solution, as well — they are often unsightly and expensive.

All the chatter about parking doesn’t mean merchants are opposed to the new building, Long said.

“It’s a wonderful idea,” Long said. “We have probably the finest conservatory in the country — I’m an optimist — we can find some kind of solution.”

The first standoff on the issue occurred Dec. 13 when the Zoning Board of Appeals took up the issue of set-backs, and the discussion included eliminating parking spaces and redesigning the merchants’ lot.

After heated debate, the zoning board refused to vote on setback variances to allow the 36,000-square-foot building to have smaller front and side yards than the code requires.

Instead, the zoning board sent the jazz building on to the Planning Commission, where issues such as parking and set-backs can be worked out, zoning board Chairman Jon Clark said.

If needed, the college can come back to the zoning board for a second try at a variance.

Another zoning board member, Marion Campbell, said she hopes the entire issue of parking will get a thorough study.

“It’s what they should have done when the college first let students have cars,” Campbell said. “The city dropped the ball and didn’t say ‘If you’re going to let them have cars, provide parking.’ ”

David Stull, dean of the Oberlin Conservatory, said it is early in the process and he is confident any disputes will be worked out.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.