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Planning commission thwarts business owners parking plans

By: Melody Stone, Journal staff writer
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Joseph Tucciarone sought out creative ways to solve a parking problem on his property adjacent to the fairgrounds and make a little money on the side. Tucciarone owns a carwash and large vacant lot next to the Gold County Fairground’s parking lot. When large events take place at the grounds he said his lot would fill up and cars would block the carwash entrance. He put up signs and tried to deter people from parking. “Every time I chase people away they look at me like a bad guy,” Tucciarone said. Feeling like being the bad guy wasn’t great for business, Tucciarone took a different approach. He decided if you can’t beat them, charge them to park. He obtained a temporary business license from the city and started charging cars to park in his lot. Greg Hegwer, Gold Country Fair chief executive officer, said it was about then when he started getting reports of someone flagging cars into the parking adjacent parking lot, away from the fairgrounds parking. “He’d reduce the price by a buck,” Hegwer said. “So people would pull in and park there.” Tucciarone obtained a temporary business license about five times last year for the major events at the fairgrounds. The lot holds between 60 to 90 cars and he charges between $2 and $4 a car, depending on the event. The parking lot is in violation of the city code, which requires paid parking lots be paved and landscaped. However, Wilfred Wong, community development director, said he chose to allow the temporary business license until they worked out a code variance allowing for an exception. The request for a variance went before the planning commission on March 16. The commissioners voted unanimously to deny Tucciarone’s request. Tucciarone is appealing his case to the City Council who will make a decision May 10. “Staff has supported the variance because it’s a temporary parking lot, it’s not 24-7,” Wong said. Wong said even if the variance is approved by the City Council, Tucciarone will still have to purchase a temporary business permit when he wants to use the lot for paid parking. The variance just allows his lot an exception to the city code. Wong said similar exceptions to code are made for other temporary parking lots, like the Tevis Cup overflow parking lot. One of Hegwer’s concerns is for the safety of the fair patrons. “It’s not paved it doesn’t have proper run-off, the grass is a big concern, especially in fire season. There’s no lighting — it’s a safety issue,” Hegwer said. “It’s our patrons who are parking there.” Wong said the public works, fire and police departments have watched the lot for the last year and approved the variance. None of the city departments saw the lot as a public safety issue. Hegwer said he estimates the fair loses about $500 a night in parking revenue from Tucciarone’s operation. Some of Gold Country Fairground’s parking profits go to the charities, which help run the parking lot during events. Tucciarone said his parking profits also benefit charities. In 2009, $300 of Tucciarone’s parking profits went to The Meadow Vista Friendly Neighbors Club Christmas Basket Program. “If they deny me they are essentially saying I can’t use my property,” Tucciarone said. For recent events Tucciarone just let people park on his lot without charge. He said he’s through chasing people off his lot. During the Rodeo last week cars blocked the entrance to his car wash. Hegwer said he offered to work with Tucciarone to improve lighting and signage. Hegwer said Tucciarone didn’t want to work together. “If he actually put in all the safety things and made is a permanent business, we wouldn’t have a problem with it,” Hegwer said. “If you’re going to go on and on as a parking lot you should become a parking lot.” Wong said he thought commissioners were most concerned about city liability regarding the parking lot. Wong said the road and lot are both private property, so the city wouldn’t be involved in the case of a lawsuit. Melody Stone can be reached at melodys@goldcountrymedia.com