Naperville resident Patrick Riley believes the situation is getting out of hand with illegal parking along Franklin Street where he lives. He said something has to give.
“It’s kind of like a circus people looking for spots to park,” Riley said. “They park too close to driveways and ignore the ‘No Parking’ signs. … It takes roughly an hour for someone to find parking.”
The issue arose as a topic of discussion during a July 20 meeting of the Naperville City Council.
Residents Blame Restaurant
Riley has a theory about why parking is at issue. He said he places the blame mainly on Fiamme, a restaurant located at 19 N. Washington St. The establishment has undergone a change in its business model in response to the pandemic.
“Fiamme started it when they eliminated their parking lot and put all their cabanas up,” Riley said. “That was when it really got bad.”
Riley pinpointed what he said he believes is the cause of the problem in May, when Fiamme stopped its operations and resumed a short time later. He recounted seeing how street parking improved temporarily after “they closed down everything”, but he said the issue arose again upon reopening for business.
Fiamme General Manager Preston Gaspar disagreed.
“We did the same thing last year to shut down our parking lot,” Gaspar said.
Outdoor dining is not a concept unique exclusively to Fiamme either. Naperville’s Quigley’s Irish Pub and Hugo’s Frog Bar and Fish House also have created new outdoor spaces for their patrons to eat in response to the pandemic.
Outdoor dining is expected to remain an option at Fiamme—at least for now.
“We’ve tapped into a niche market the entire pandemic,” Gaspar said. “We’ve done our best to accommodate guests to make sure that they’re safe by letting them dine outside because we do get a lot of COVID-19 conscious guests. … Rather than try to meet the demand indoors, we decided to meet the demand outdoors.”
Resident Takes It to Council
Riley escalated his concern to city officials during the July 20 city council meeting after previous attempts fell short of their aim. Officials directed Riley at the time to share information with city staff.
He said the way the issue has been handled hasn’t always gone the way he hopes. Riley said he has neighbors who share similar concerns about parking along Franklin Street.
Jennifer Louden, the city’s deputy director for transportation, engineering and development, tried to address the concern.
“Our team will go and take a look at what updates we can do for the signage and striping and then we will also coordinate with police on enforcement,” Louden said.
Councilwoman Theresa Sullivan questioned if Fiamme is operating within city code by eliminating parking spaces.
Typically, new businesses are required by the city to have a set number of parking spaces for every square foot of a building. That’s not the case for Fiamme.
“Fiamme’s lot is within the downtown parking [Special Service Area],” Louden said. “They are not required by code to have the parking that is on there. It was existing when they converted from the old service station, so it’s always been an extra benefit for them. Now obviously, they’re using the space for a different use.”
Troubleshooting the Problem
The effort to ease parking woes in the city’s downtown, especially along Franklin Street, has received a bit of notice more recently, in part, to Riley’s comments. Riley said Councilman Paul Hinterlong called him to talk about the issue after the July 20 city council meeting. The city also released a new survey to get community input on parking. Since the July 20 city council meeting, the police department also has had a car patrolling the streets and looking closely for parking violations.
“They’ve had a car here, I think, every day at least circling the block,” Riley said.
Riley acknowledged that he doesn’t expect the police department to prioritize the enforcement of parking violations all the time.
“Even lines on the street and better signage would be a big boon,” he said.
Louden suggested that another potential remedy is to have Fiamme encourage its patrons to use the parking deck that’s a block away from the restaurant.
Gaspar said patrons are advised through the OpenTable app, which the restaurant uses to reserve seating, both before and after booking reservations about where to park vehicles.
“It’s literally at the tips of their fingers,” he said.
Gaspar said he believes some patrons are having a difficult time adjusting to dining at Fiamme without having a valet parking option.
“I inquired with police department, as well as building and zoning, to see if we can have a loading zone,” he said. “That way we can still do valet. … The city shot us down.”
Gaspar’s remark is in reference to email communications he had with city staff dating back to March that were obtained by Naperville Community Television about the city ruling out the idea of establishing a loading zone because of proximity to residences.
“Unfortunately, our hands are tied,” Gaspar said.
Naperville News 17’s Megann Horstead reports.
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