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Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Saturday, November 17, 2012
Bike path plan cuts parking spots

Nick Formico, who works in his family's marine hardware store at 818 Caroline St., wants his customers to have access to the six-spot lot behind the building.

So he parks his car in the city-owned parking garage down the block, paying $107.21 a month for the privilege.

"We do it for our customers," said Formico, a manager at Key West Marine Hardware, known locally as Los Cubanitos, a fixture on Caroline Street since 1966.

When business was better, they rented two spots a month, he said.

The family's decision to rent a pricey garage spot to make room for customers drew a round of applause at a recent community meeting over the plans for a $2 million Caroline Street renovation project that still needs approval from the City Commission, which planners said may see it on the agenda in February.

Formico was among some 50 people, mostly residents and business types who call home the three blocks of Caroline Street due for reconstruction.

At issue Wednesday night, though, was the majority of attendees' ire over tentative plans to add a legal, 5-foot wide bike path on the same renovated swath that requires wiping out 37 parking spots.

The project's aim is to solve the drainage problem on Caroline, one of Old Town's roughest stretches of pavement, that treats the neighborhood to long-term standing water when it rains.

Construction is estimated to take 12 to 14 months from start to finish, said City Planner Don Craig, who moderated the Wednesday meeting held at the Key West Ferry Terminal.

Mayor Craig Cates attended, along with City Commissioner Jimmy Weekley.

Yet if someone had been dropped into the meeting space from, say, Idaho, he would have thought the Caroline Street project was only about the bike path, as speakers voiced disdain at the thought of their corner of Key West losing out on the streetside spots.

"You're going to take away 37?" Peter Batty Sr. asked at one point.

"We're going in the wrong direction."

Craig said the city-owned lot on Caroline Street has plenty of room, along with the garage.

Attorney Bob Goldman, who has meticulously kept records of public meetings and each step of the Caroline renovation project, told Craig that the entire parking-space elimination is to please prominent Keys developer Pritam Singh, who is building a waterfront hotel on Caroline Street.

Goldman said the city hired an engineer and a landscape architect, who also have worked with Singh, for the drainage/bike path project.

This displeased Craig, who interrupted the attorney to say there is no conflict of interest and asked him to keep his comments relevant.

The bike path idea came from such community meetings, said the planners, who began airing out the plans in 2009.

The Tree Commission has approved the landscaping plans, and the Historic Architectural Review Commission has also given its blessing, said Craig.

As a safeguard, the city's volunteer Planning Board will review the Caroline Street project plans, although the project doesn't require its approval.

Richard Tallmadge, who owns The Restaurant Store on Eaton Street, pleaded with the crowd to consider the Caroline Street bike path a step toward "alternative transportation."

Batty told him he wouldn't like it if the city were planning to erase some of Tallmadge's parking.

Tallmadge left the meeting soon after, before it wrapped up at 8 p.m., after 1½ hours. His store has its own parking lot.

Formico said he isn't 100 percent sure where the bike path idea came from, and he cannot blame local bicycle advocates.

"It would be best if everyone can get together and see what the best solution is," he said on Friday.

"We feel there's a better (bike) route for them, a safer route. They should understand where we're coming from."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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