Parking availability in Downtown Chipley and how to facilitate that was recently during a Chipley Redevelopment Agency meeting. [COLLIN BREAUX | The News]

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Members of the Chipley Redevelopment Agency (CRA) discussed parking needs and concerns in the downtown area during a meeting on Tuesday, May 21.

The topic came up when CRA members discussed separate public meetings being held by consultant Fisher Arnold to discuss how downtown could be spruced up to make the area more appealing and attract more visitors, which have also brought up the matter.

Kevin Russell, who also sits on the City Council, said the area was built at a time when traffic was not an issue and most people didn’t have vehicles.

Employees parking for most of the day versus a paying customer having a spot also came up, as did people tending to not park by the Washington County Chamber of Commerce building.

“All I’ve heard is people don’t want to walk. I’ve heard that for years,” Russell said. “Yet, it’s funny, the same people that don’t want to walk four blocks to a store will go to the Peanut Festival and walk half a mile from the yard to the front gate.”

Russell called parking concerns “growing pains.”

“I’ve had several people ask how can we put more parking downtown?” he said. “I said tear down buildings. It’s a give and take. You’re going to have to take buildings out. For example, you could take this old library that’s sitting here, move it out to the new library so they do book sales. This is a whole grass area here that could be turned into a parking lot.”

Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Birge said every growing city, such as Lynn Haven, has dedicated parking outside.

“That’s where you get your business owners to come to the Council and say this is what we would like to see,” Russell said. “All of your merchants come together and say this is what we would like to do and justify why you’re wanting to do it–not just because you want to park there but because it’s hurting your business.”

Russell said his big argument with the downtown plan is there are plants and bushes in the downtown area that prohibits disabled people from being able to get out of their car in the sector and instead have to get out on the side of Highway 77.

“If you’ve ever watched somebody trying to get out on a wheelchair on 77 with a semi driving by, I’m more concerned with that,” Russell said. “Especially in our older community, because you’ve got a lot of older people in downtown.”

As for the downtown vision meetings, the final one to receive public comment will be held Thursday, June 6, again at Chipley City Hall. Following that, Fisher Arnold will present plans to the City Council in July.