Overloaded parking decks a concern

Posted: July 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A large contingent of area residents chose to enjoy the city’s July 3 fireworks display from atop a parking garage.

But they might not be allowed to do so again.

The city’s four autoparks were designed to handle vehicles moving to and from parking spaces and sitting in those spots, Winchester Parking Authority members said Thursday. But people massed in an area can present a problem for the structures.

“As illogical as it sounds, they were not designed to handle a large number of people,” Chairman Richard Helm said.

Engineers, he said, have indicated that too many people on the roof “can be very, very dangerous.”

The amount and location of the weight load aren’t the only considerations, Helm said. The garages also aren’t designed for rapid evacuations in the event of an emergency.

“Our position is going to be not to have people up there,” he said, “rather than figuring out how to get people up there.”

Samantha Anderson, the authority’s executive director, said the crowds weren’t too bad on top of three of the city’s garages. But hundreds of people packed the Court Square Autopark roof.

“We weren’t expecting so many people at one garage,” said downtown manager Jennifer Bell, who helped coordinate the Rockin’ Independence Eve celebration.

The issue of how the garage rooftops can be used has come up before.

The inaugural Salsafest, held on top of the Court Square garage in 2010, sold out its 500-ticket allotment. It was moved from the site the following year, however, to allow more people to attend.

Anderson also said there have been discussions about the possibility of fireworks being launched from atop a garage both for Independence Day Eve and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Helm said the issues had come up before and were researched, and the structures weren’t designed for those purposes either.

Parking Authority members also voted unanimously to lease five parking spaces in its Cork Street lot to Howard Shockey & Sons Inc. until March 13. The request was made to facilitate building renovations at the new Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum site at 19 W. Cork St.

The authority historically has not leased spaces in its surface lots. But Jack Rohrbaugh, project superintendent, said subcontractors working on the project need to access supplies in their work vans and trucks throughout the day.

“We’ve got 30 guys there today, masons, electricians, etc., trying to get in,” Rohrbaugh said. “They’re carpooling and doing what they can.

“We’re just begging you for a few spaces, just from 6 a.m. to 2:30, to help with the construction.”

Authority member Kim Burke said she understood the need and wanted to find a way to accommodate the request.

“We agree that it’s for a short term,” she said, “just until the project is done. It’s a tough situation. ... Sometimes you have to compromise.”

City Manager Dale Iman said that by noting in the meeting minutes that a hardship has been demonstrated, the authority would be protected if others were to claim that a space-leasing precedent was set by the decision.

After considerable discussion about what would be a fair price to charge, the members settled on $42 a month per space — the amount charged for covered spaces in the authority’s garages.

Helm also asked Shockey to make the signs that will be placed on the selected meters to indicate that they are reserved for construction parking only during the designated hours.

The authority members also:

Were told that a group of stakeholders will meet Aug. 1 in the Half Note Lounge at the George Washington Hotel to begin discussing downtown parking, including any needs that perhaps are not being met.

Were told that revenues for June were down 3 percent when compared with 2012, but for the fiscal year they increased by nearly $53,000, or 6 percent.

Attending the meeting at Rouss City Hall were Chairman Richard Helm and authority members Kim Burke, Howard Manheimer, Mike Miller and Jeff Rives.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com