In a lengthy discussion Monday night – in some cases reaching back to plans from 2009 – the Escalon City Council and several concerned city residents and business owners ultimately agreed to agree that they basically want the same thing for the recently vacated Prospect Street.
The street, which runs between First Street and Roosevelt Avenue, cuts across a lot with the Escalon Lumber and Hardware business on one side and a group of businesses including a beauty salon and Escalon Transmission on the other.
Business owners and members of the Escalon Azores Hall attended the council meeting with petitions in hand, originally seeking that the city rescind the vacating of the street.
Their concern, said Sandra Mangunson in remarks to the council during the Public Comments portion of the April 3 meeting, is that vacating the street could eventually mean the sale of the lot and uncertainty for the businesses in the area.
Council members, acting on the recommendation of staff to vacate the street, nonetheless said they don’t want that action to harm existing businesses and nearby locations like the Escalon Pentecostal Church and Azores Band Hall.
Though it has been used as a street, those testifying before the council indicated it has been used more for parking over the years, especially for businesses along that section of First Street and when there are major events hosted downtown.
Business owners, including Randy Schmidt of Escalon Lumber, said the businesses would definitely suffer if they had to depend only on the available on the street parking.
Council members reiterated their concern with re-designating the area as a street, which would put the city in a situation of having to meet specific criteria for the development and maintenance of the street, possibly costing up to a million dollars.
Schmidt said many motorists still use Prospect as a street, bypassing the light at First and McHenry, turning left on to Prospect off First, right onto Roosevelt and then left on to McHenry. He said it is heavily utilized for that, as well as people passing back and forth from P&L Nursery and to get to residences along Roosevelt.
Along with offering prepared remarks to the council, Mangnuson provided the council members with a photo showing the area in question one day this past weekend, when there were several events going on. The ‘street’ was utilized as a parking lot.
Rev. Wayne Warren of the Pentecostal Tabernacle also took the dais and said that businesses in the area have been operating under somewhat of an informal agreement regarding parking, making sure they coordinate the parking when events are occurring at the various spots, from the church to the nearby dance studio to the band hall.
Mangnuson said her concern also came with the way it was handled, feeling that the council didn’t have any “open discussion” with those in the impacted area, and asking for a more transparent approach in the future.
“If it’s just blacktopped, it makes the most sense,” Schmidt told council members of seeking a solution that would not require the area to be a street but would address pothole and dust issues and keep the area in service.
Mayor Jeff Laugero pointed to a 2009 proposal for rehabilitating First Street, a project that didn’t come to fruition because of concerns raised then. He said the discussions now were important and he felt that all sides are trying to reach the same objective.
“Our intent is not to damage the city, the action that was taken (vacating the street) was done because there was no way the city is going to invest a million dollars to create a road,” Laugero said. “We need to try to figure out what’s best for all of the community.
“It’s a very valuable area for the city to retain.”
The city’s consulting engineer has also been out to the location to review it, city officials said.
Councilmember Ed Alves suggested that the best solution may also be the simplest.
“If it has worked the way it is, why don’t we just put rock on it and move on,” he said, suggesting the original gravel sought by Schmidt to help fill potholes and smooth the area may be the best.
Short of that, Alves said, the city could investigate turning it in to a specially designated city parking area.
While the discussion lasted about an hour, it ultimately came full circle, with the council deciding that Mayor Laugero and councilmember Robert Swift will meet with those adjacent to the property and impacted the most, getting input from the city engineer and city attorney regarding the best way to proceed and taking those options to interested parties.
Alves said it likely will result in ‘rocking the area’ but for the time being, it will remain status quo as a pass through non-street and unofficial parking area.