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Business owners say planned downtown Meridian development lacks parking

The project also includes two buildings that are both 25 feet taller than Meridian building code allows in Old Town.
Credit: NeuDesign Architecture
An aerial rendering of the first phase of Union 93, a planned project in downtown Meridian, formerly known as Meridian Station. The Galena Opportunity Fund submitted an application to the city of Meridian for the project in December.

MERIDIAN, Idaho — A proposed mixed-use development, formerly known as Meridian Station, which would bring hundreds of apartments and retail space to downtown Meridian drew a mixed response at its first public hearing.

The Idaho Press reports downtown business owners told Meridian Planning and Zoning commissioners Thursday the project doesn’t have enough parking, an ongoing problem for Old Town businesses. Commissioners argued the project’s proposed 100-foot-tall buildings are too imposing.

Commissioners considered whether to recommend to city council approval of a conditional-use permit for the project, which has been rebranded from Meridian Station to Union 93. The project includes two buildings that are both 25 feet taller than Meridian building code allows in Old Town.

While the hearing was meant to focus on the heights of the buildings, and Union 93 designs have yet to be finalized, last week’s hearing was the public’s first opportunity to comment on the development. Several downtown business owners showed up to oppose the parking plans.

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“We’re just scared,” said Shannon Ingle, owner of Coffee Paint Repeat, an event space on East Idaho Avenue. “We’re scared of this big thing coming. And we just want to be seen, and we want to be heard.”

Ingle said downtown construction has negatively impacted her business in the past by limiting available parking, and she doesn’t believe existing businesses will be “protected” from the impact of construction on a development as large as Union 93.

Additionally, the project might limit downtown parking once it’s occupied, Ingle said. Parking restrictions (primarily spaces limited to two hours) are only enforced on weekdays, she said, but on weekends Union 93 residents likely would park beyond the two-hour limit in spaces meant for businesses.

Union 93, headed by the Galena Opportunity Fund, a Boise-based developer, would create the two tallest structures downtown. The proposed buildings would be located on the southeast corner of Main Street and Broadway Avenue, an area occupied by vacant buildings north of the railroad tracks.

Plans for Union 93 include 385 apartments and about 28,000 square feet of retail space. Plans also include a parking garage in each of the two buildings that would provide a total of 550 parking stalls. A temporary parking lot with 109 spaces is also included, but it would primarily be used for Meridian City Hall employees, and office buildings are planned to replace the lot in the future.

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Jeremy Putman, an architect and director of design for neUdesign Architecture, which has been contracted to design Union 93, told commissioners the project would bring much needed commercial space and residential units downtown.

“This is a great opportunity for revitalization and to bring some life into the area,” Putman said.

Cheryl Jones, owner of downtown boutique gift shop 44 East, said she’s excited by the prospect of more retailers and residents coming downtown — more people would be good for her business. But “that amount of parking that’s being proposed isn’t going to accommodate all those people,” she said.

Designs include about 1.4 parking stalls per residential unit, but, Jones said, most families have at least two cars, and Union 93 residents will be forced to park throughout downtown, including in front of businesses such as 44 East.

“For the small businesses, if people don’t find a place to park, they’re not going to stop, they’re not going to come in,” Jones said. “They might park and go to a restaurant, but they’re not going to park and try to get to the gift shop.”

Putman, of neUdesign Architecture, which is based in downtown Meridian, pointed out the Union 93 plans include more parking than required by Meridian’s building code.

“We are cognizant of (parking concerns), and we are providing an excess of parking stalls,” he said. “There (are) approximately 1.4 parking stalls per unit which is over the one-per-unit that’s required by code.”

BUILDING HEIGHT

After hearing public comments, commissioners reflected on the requested conditional use permit that would allow the developer to build 100-foot-tall buildings despite code limiting Old Town buildings to 75 feet. The commission, which had just four of seven commissioners present, was split on the permit, and ultimately decided to continue the public hearing until its next meeting when more commissioners could weigh in.

Commissioner Bill Cassinelli said he opposed granting the permit because the 75-foot restriction “is there for a reason” and “I think we need to stick with that.”

“That will forever change the look of Old Town Meridian,” he said. “(The buildings) will dwarf everything.”

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Commissioner Patricia Pitzer agreed, although she said the developer could decrease the heights of the buildings and choose to remove the planned excess parking.

Commissioners Lisa Holland and Nick Grove said they were in favor of approving the conditional-use permit.

“I like the density of the project,” said Holland, a Meridian native who works as the city of Kuna’s economic development director. “One of the things Meridian has been lacking in its downtown is that residential component. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for Meridian to see a project like this because, I can tell you, economic developers dream about projects like this every day.”

Commissioners voted 3-1 to continue the permit request. Cassinelli was the sole ‘no’ vote. Commissioners Ryan Fitzgerald, Rhonda McCarvel and Andrew Seal were absent.

The Planning and Zoning Commission will continue the public hearing at 6 p.m. March 5 at Meridian City Hall, 33 E. Broadway Ave.

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