Car share company should pay for space, Wilmette says

The car sharing service Zipcar may want to expand into downtown Wilmette, but it’s not going to get an invitation into the Metra stations managed by Wilmette as long as company officials want to get spaces for free, village officials say.

Nor is Zipcar apt to get free spaces in other downtown public lots, including Wilmette’s own Village Hall lot, they said. Instead, those officials have told Zipcar that it should look to private parking lots and try to cut deals with their owners, before looking for free spaces in public lots.

“We’ve been approached by Zipcar, and the reason why we’ve politely said no so far is that parking’s not free,” Village Manager Tim Frenzer sai a few days after the issue of providing space for ride share programs like Zipcar was reviewed by Wilmettte’s Environmental and Energy Commission.

Commission members, who met July 21, heard from John Adler, the village’s community development director, that village staff were leery about providing a car-sharing program like Zipcar with lot space.

“One of the issues we have is that we’re already hearing that there’s a lack of parking in the village center or at least a perception that there’s a lack,” Adler said at the commission meeting.

Referring to the increase in downtown business, in part due to the opening of several new restaurants, he added that “From the village’s standpoint, it’s not the best time to put up signs for Zipcar, even if we know that it cold decrease the number of cars in village center.”

That also extended to the possibility of providing spaces for charging electric cars, he said.

Metra commuter lots in Wilmette, which lie east of the Metra tracks between Lake and Wilmette avenues and are actually owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, are already fully used, Frenzer said July 24.

“Zipcar is not a charity and those are prime spaces that people look for, and they’re not willing to pay rent. It would essentially be us storing their inventory for them, and it amounts to kicking out the paying customers,” he said.

The village manages Metra’s Wilmette lots and is in control of who can use stalls, Metra spokesman Tom Miller said July 24: “As far as anyone putting their cars there, that’s really something for Wilmette to decide.”

Both Frenzer and Adler said Wilmette put Zipcar officials in touch with the owners of private downtown lots, including the owners of the Chase Bank building parking lot and that of the Jaguar dealership on Green Bay Road.

“Those property owners weren’t willing to come to an agreement,” Adler said July 21.

Adler and Frenzer suggested that the village also wasn’t interested in providing free spaces for Zipcar in its own parking lots, including the spaces immediately west of Village Hall.

Charles Stephens, Zipcar’s Chicago general manager, confirmed July 24 that his company has been in and out of discussions with Wilmette about finding spots in the Metra commuter lots for much of 2014.

“We weren’t able to get spots in the Metra lots, primarily due to the fact that the lots are particularly busy,” he said.

Stephens said he was not part of the direct negotiations, and couldn’t say if company officials had specifically asked for free spots. Zipcar, which is owned by Avis, has parking stalls in municipal lots around Chicago and the suburbs, as well as in public school and CTA lots across the region, he said: “Some are at no cost, and there are some that have costs.”

Stephens said the company was not interested looking for spots outside downtown Wilmette; for instance, at the CTA station at Linden Avenue and Fourth Street. He said Zipcar continues to look for space in downtown Wilmette, but said he could not talk about what property owners it is negotiating with.

Rickey Voss, Evanston’s parking and revenue division manager, said Monday that Zipcar pays rent on the spaces it uses in Evanston, including those at the Evanston Public Library, and at the city’s Central Street lot. Monthly rent per parking stalls in the city runs between $50 and $85, he said.

Some members of the commission, including Commissioner Patrick Meara, agreed with staff that car-sharing businesses would have to look to private property owners to find spaces. Others, like commissioner Debra Favre, asked if the village couldn’t change zoning rules to encourage property owners to provide spaces to groups like Zipcar.

The problem with that, Adler said, is that the village already provides numerous parking space allowances for property owners. Still, he said staff would draft a memo from the commission to the village board stating that the issue of car sharing and electric car charging spaces needs to be looked at when the staff next reviews the zoning ordinance.

ZIPPED UP

WHAT: parking spaces

WHERE: Wilmette village center

ISSUE: parking for car-share programs

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