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City moves to make space for fire trucks downtown

May 10, 2018

HARLINGEN — The issue of parking has been cited as a potential problem once the Baxter Building renovation is finished and residents fill the 24-unit living space.

Turns out, it’s already a problem.

City officials say the narrow downtown streets around the Baxter Building just aren’t wide enough to allow fire trucks to operate, and they plan to modify parking spaces from angled to parallel to create more room.

“As you all know, A Street is fairly narrow and so we looked at bringing access to that fire apparatus to the building,” Carlos Sanchez, assistant city manager, told the Downtown Improvement District board this week. “As a result of that, we’ve had to propose to reconfigure the parking lot or the parking spaces that are immediately in front of the Baxter Building from the alley to Jackson Street and those that are adjacent to Lozano Plaza.

“Those parking spaces are going to be converted to parallel parking and that allows us to have about 23 feet or so as the drive lane for the fire truck to be able to set up and provide that service if needed at any particular point,” he added.

Downtown district parking has been an issue since the now $5.5 million renovation of the aging high-rise was initially discussed. Critics say they worry adding up to 50 or so residents downtown — they would not have dedicated parking — could create problems for downtown businesses whose customers might go elsewhere.

Sanchez said the modifications to the parking zones near the Baxter Building will result in five fewer parking spaces, and that striping the new parallel spaces could begin as early as next week.

To compensate for those lost spaces, Sanchez said the city is weighing improvements to the city’s nearby Centennial Park lot.

“We want to look at enhancing the parking lot itself by adding structures, improving the crosswalk so for the people who park in that area, its readily accessible for them to come across the street,” he said, citing wheelchair ramps and a push-button crossing light feature for pedestrians.

“So you’re saying to use the parking lot next to Centennial Park over here, right, and add like shaded structures?” asked downtown board member Stefania Trimboli-Wright. “But is that to be used for the Baxter Building?”

“At this point, we’re not looking at reserving anything, it would be again in the same mode it operates right now, which is first-come, first-served,” Sanchez answered.

The other side of the Baxter Building, the one which fronts Commerce Street and extends to an alley on the east side of the building, also is narrow and may need parking changes, he said.

“We’re going to be doing this in phases,” Sanchez said. “We’re at a position where we can make the change by the restaurant (Los Cuates) as soon as next week. The area next to the Baxter Building will happen after the construction, after the renovation of the Baxter Building is completed.”

rkelley@valleystar.com