City of Union

As a Union city committee discussed issues with the commuter parking lot the city shares with First Baptist Church, discussions took a new turn.

“We have a lot in front of the auditorium that’s not utilized a whole lot,” Alderman Bob Schmuke said at the parks, buildings, development and public service committee meeting Monday, Nov. 16. “I don’t even know why we would need to go into an agreement with the Baptist church again after this agreement, when we can move the commuter lot to our old lot.”

The lot at City Auditorium has been half full during the day since city hall moved out in July, Schmuke said. The building is still used for the city’s parks department, and part of it is leased to the Franklin County Health Department for COVID-19 contact tracers.

Schmuke’s idea came up after Assistant City Administrator James Schmieder discussed complaints the city has had about the parking lot at First Baptist Church, located northwest of the intersection of Highways 50 and 47. They include drivers doing “burnouts” in the parking lot, people creating noise violations, while others are more “benign’’ and stay in their cars.

“I know the police department has fielded a few phone calls about peace disturbances, noise complaints,” Schmieder said. “They try to address those as they’re able to. Sometimes they are out on other calls and they aren’t able to get up there as quickly as the complainant would like ... It is creating some security issues from the city’s standpoint.”

Around the same time as complaints increased, the church approached the city about extending its lease to let Union use part of its parking lot. The lease was first signed in 2012 and extended in 2017. Another 18 months remains on the current lease, which expires in 2022.

In exchange for the city’s use of the lot, the church would like the city to pay to repave the lot, like it did when the lease was signed in 2012, Schmieder said. It cost Union $32,786 to slurry seal the lot back then.

“Again, 18 months is still on the clock, so it’s not like we need to repave the parking lot now,” Schmieder said.

The committee recommended that the city create a loitering ordinance and put in “no loitering” signs for its commuter lot, whether it remains at First Baptist Church or moves to the auditorium. The move still needs approval from the full board of aldermen.

Schmieder had said it is difficult to tell people to leave without the ordinance.

“As the weather cools down, we know that the loitering is going to cool off, because no one wants to hang outside their cars and freeze, but we know that this is going to be an issue going forward,” he said. “We know it is something we’re going to have to address, if not immediately, then in the next six months or so as the weather warms back up.”

Existing rules allow people to park for any reason for as long as they want, Schmieder said.

“That really hurts us, because unless we get an active noise complaint we can go up and address, we’ve got nothing,” he said. “If I see them there and say, ‘Hey you guys have got to move it,’ they can ignore me all day long as long as they’re not creating problems.”

Going to a city-owned lot would not only save Union money, but it would mean the city is completely in charge, Schmuke said. “That way we can enforce what we need to enforce on our own lot,” he said.

Schmuke suggested the city monitor how many cars park in the lots leading up to the end of the lease.

The First Baptist Church lot will usually see between 10 and 15 cars park at the lot daily, with a “high-water mark” of 20, Schmieder said. It is not affiliated with any official state commuter lots.

“I’m not even sure that it’s listed on any official website that I’m aware of,” Schmieder said.