Published: Jul 24, 2012 06:30 PM
Modified: Jul 24, 2012 06:28 PM
HILLSBOROUGH - Orange County has paid roughly $1.6 million to buy a downtown parking deck, resolve a 2010 lawsuit over restricted access and provide free public parking.
The county also will install four electric-car charging stations later this month at the Eno River Parking Deck, behind Weaver Street Market and adjacent to the library and county offices.
The July 6 deal ends a county lawsuit asking a judge to clarify and enforce the original lease terms with developer Eno River Parking Deck LLC.
The company built the parking deck in 2008 and signed a lease with the county in 2009 for 200 unrestricted parking spaces at a cost of $1 per year for 40 years. The county provided free parking for library patrons, and employees and visitors of nearby county offices. Eno River managers operated the other 209 spaces, charging drivers $1 an hour to park.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners, with Commissioners Barry Jacobs and Alice Gordon dissenting, approved paying the developer $1 million from the county fund balance June 5. They also transferred ownership of two county properties: the former Hillsborough Savings Bank at 112 N. Churton St., used by the Clerk of Court before the courthouse annex was built, and the Graham Building at 118 N. Churton St., a rock building constructed in 1930.
The county bought both buildings for $485,000 in 2002, and they are now valued at $580,000.
Both Gordon and Jacobs said they think the county has higher priorities for the money. The county also has all the parking it needs with 37 years still left on its lease, Gordon said.
Plus, the county typically has put the profits from selling its properties into a fund to build the future Southwest Branch Library and renovate older schools, she said.
County officials said the parking deck had operational issues almost from the start, with people parking in free spaces even when they werent using the library or visiting county offices.
The developers asked county officials to add gate access to its free spaces, County Manager Frank Clifton said. However, drivers using those spaces needed a credit card or a punch code only available at county buildings to get out. Those unfamiliar with the system or who tried to leave after failing to find a vacant space had to pay a $5 fee.
That created a lot of animosity for people who got caught in that situation, Clifton said.
After the developers hired a parking monitor, people complained about harassment, he said. A lack of signs added to the confusion, and the public spaces were often empty, officials said.
Meager profits also affected the countys tax income. While the developer relied on a 2009 assessed tax value of $2.9 million for the recent deal, that is nearly $2.3 million more than its current value of $594,473. County tax officials reduced the value in 2010 based on the low profit margin, county attorney John Roberts said.
Despite his reservations, Jacobs said the county got a good deal, when it comes right down to it. It should help relieve customer service issues and problems with on-street parking, he said.
The county will continue paying $25,000 a year in maintenance costs and will not charge people to park for the time being. However, cars left unattended for more than 24 hours could be towed at the owners expense. There are signs alerting drivers to the changes, officials said.