After months of parking complaints revolving around the residents of the 15-story student apartment building in Sweetwater, the city has started defining how to solve the problem.
Several city employees, including the chief of police, director of operations and the mayor’s chief of staff, met with 109 Tower management and Florida International University staff Thursday morning to piece together how they can persuade the students living at the tower to stop parking illegally along the streets and other residences.
In the short-term, the city plans on placing signs that prohibit parking along the streets and will put a time limit on the parking at commercial plazas along 109th Avenue. The hope is that eventually the students will prefer to park on campus than risk parking illegally.
The city already placed signs along Seventh Terrace, one of the more heavily affected streets, but that has only caused the students to move farther west to 110th Avenue.
“There’s a delicate balance to this particular issue,” said Guillermo Cuadra, the mayor’s chief of staff. “As a community, we want quality of life. We have the student residents and then all the other Sweetwater residents. We want to welcome the students here, but the circumstances are what they are.”
Back in 2012, the city issued a parking variance, which reduced the number of required parking spaces from 224 to zero, after the developer established a covenant with FIU that would require tenants to park across the street on campus.
Since the privately owned building designated for FIU students opened in August, police have gotten complaints from neighbors that tower’s tenants park all over the swale of the roads, by fire hydrants and sometimes even block their driveways.
This left the building with about 25 parking spaces, which are mostly used by the building staff.
“We have made it abundantly clear to students they have to park on campus. It’s on their lease,” said Travis Bodeep, community manager of 109 Tower. “Just this morning, we towed two cars out of our own parking lot.”
Despite the rules, students continue to risk getting a ticket or getting towed rather than parking across the street and walking across a busy eight-lane state road.
Plans are in place to build a pedestrian bridge over Eighth Street in a few years, but the city is also looking at other long-term solutions, such as increasing the frequency of shuttle stops in front of the tower by adjusting the route of the Sweetwater shuttle bus.
As part of the covenant, the university added a stop at the tower for the shuttle that transports students between the main campus and the engineering campus on 107th Avenue and West Flagler Street.
The FIU shuttle stops about every 40 minutes on weekdays, according to Lissette Hernandez, FIU’s parking and transportation director.
Police Chief Jesus Menocal noted that most complaints happen over the weekend, when guests visit the building.
“I think it has a lot of it has to do with guests. A lot of the issues are on the weekends,” Menocal said, while patting a fat binder labeled “109 Tower,” full of police reports.
Menocal also said that the building is under a police watch order and the department has been planning to add more officers to do “community policing” during business hours in the area.
Longtime resident David Borges said he hasn’t seen the students’ attitude change about parking over the past few months.
“I see the parking tickets left on the floor. It’s been six months of educating and things haven’t improved,” Borges said. “The reason we have this problem is because rules were bent to build this building.”
No residents from 109 Tower were present at the meeting.
This building became the first step toward what city officials hope will become a “University City” district that will bring money into the small city that has been riddled with corruption in the past.
More developers have come to the city since then, but now the city is dealing with the consequences of issuing the parking variance in the first place.
In the long run, Cuadra also mentioned the possibility of trying to get a municipal garage built.
“This is literally part of growing pains and our city is growing,” Cuadra said. “We don’t want the problem to move from block to block.”