Normally empty lots near downtown are a good problem to have. When the market is high they can be sold for a pretty penny, and when the market is down they can be used as dirt parking lots while you wait for the market to change course.
But what do you do with a lot that isn’t worth a lot of money and costs money to maintain as a parking lot?
The question was recently raised by the Exeter City Council about the dirt lot located on the southwest corner of F and Palm streets in downtown Exeter. City Manager Randy Groom said the lot was at one time planned for the expansion of Exeter City Hall, by far the smallest City Hall in Tulare County. But sparse public attendance at City Council meetings and the need to cut spending have left the City of Exeter with little to no incentive to plan for a larger City Hall.
In April, Groom presented the City Council with three options for using the lot: 1) charge 18-wheelers already parking there as overflow for local packing houses; 2) allow the Exeter Bark Park to double its size along F Street; 3) develop an RV parking lot for overnight stays for visitors at local events or on their way to see the giant sequoias.
“Any of these have advantages and disadvantages and there is no action requested tonight,” Groom said at the April 9 meeting.
Councilmember Teresa Boyce asked why semi-trucks parking there on a temporary basis was a problem.
City staff agreed that it is an awkward intersection for trucks to pull in and out of. When it rains it becomes muddy and then the trucks track the mud onto the street which means the City has the cost of extra runs by the street sweeper. And if the City decides to develop a sidewalk along Palm Avenue, the weight of the trucks would crush and crack the area unless faster than normal vehicle driving.
Mayor Robyn Stearns asked if the City had thought about selling the property to help the City deal with economic downtown over the last four to five years. Councilmember Ted Macaulay seconded the notion, saying “What are we saving it for if we don’t have any plans for it?”
Mayor Pro-Tem Jack Allwardt suggested giving the private sector a crack at making money by doing a long-term commercial lease to operate a parking lot.
“Those trucks don’t leave town, they go somewhere,” Allwardt said. “We need to do something, it’s kind of an eyesore.”
Councilmember Dale Sally, Jr. suggested blocking off the lot from Palm Street until the City can sell it or afford improvements, such as paving it for truck overflow parking or parking for downtown events.
For now, Public Works Director Daymon Qualls said the City has placed cones and caution tape on the northern entrance from Pine Street and eastern entrance from F Street to block trucks from parking there until the City decides if it wants to sell the property or develop it. Qualls said the City had put decomposed granite on the lot to help with the mud several years ago but the weight of the trucks had already ground it down.
Groom said the item has not been scheduled for any action but said the City Council will likely revisit the issue again to give staff direction on the future of the lot. The Exeter City Council meets at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at Exeter City Hall, located at 137 N. F St. in Exeter.