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Church to Shelby County Judicial Center employees: No more parking

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They no longer can use lot next door

By Lisa King

In the 18 months since the Shelby County Judicial Center opened, employees have fallen out of grace with a neighboring church about parking places.

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Centenary Methodist Church, located just west of the judicial center, which is at 401 Main St. in Shelbyville, as of Sunday no longer will allow employees of the center to use its parking lot.

Willard Knipp, pastor of Centenary Methodist, said that at first, the church didn’t mind if people frequenting the judicial center, as well as employees, parked in its lot, and the church even designated spots for circuit clerk employees to park for a nominal fee.

But now a sign has been posted in the church lot saying no parking is allowed except for church personnel and members.

Knipp said that action was taken because people were abusing the church’s hospitality and ignoring signs that designated how spaces were to be used.

“Cars have been parked in the space for the church bus while it was being used to assist others; cars have been parked in church staff member spaces, and upon being asked to move, individuals have responded with profanity towards our staff and treated them with disrespect,” Knipp said. “These, and other events, have convinced the church’s trustees, who have the responsibility of maintaining and being stewards of the church’s property, with the approval of the pastor, to make the decision to shut down public access to the lot effective June 30, 2013.”

The judicial center has a parking lot that was constructed at 2nd and Main Streets, just two blocks east of the center, but that lot largely is empty with employees and visitors scouring spots not only at Centenary but at the county parking lot on Washington Street and along city streets, where parking is limited to by ordinance to 2 hours.

 

Employee parking

In addition to the lot at 2nd and Main streets, some judicial center employees are allowed to park in the lot designated for county employees, located on Washington Street, Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger.

“We only have a limited number of spaces here, and we have quite a few people who work in the courthouse and also in the judicial center who are county employees, so we reserve these lots Monday through Friday just for county employees, bailiffs, court security, county attorneys, people like that,” he said. “Some [at judicial center] are state employees, the ones who work for circuit and district court clerk, they are all state employees.“

Shelby County Circuit Clerk Lowry Miller said the idea is for most employees to park at 2nd and Main streets.

“The building is set up for them to park two blocks down,” he said. “The parking lot behind the building itself is just for elected officials.”

What about the 2-hour limit on some curbside parking spaces – are police writing many tickets for violators? Shelbyville Police spokesperson Kelly Cable says no.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot [citations], we’ve given a few warnings here and there, nothing major,” he said. “I think we have cited one person that I can recall.”

When asked why judicial center employees are not parking in the lot on 2nd Street, Miller said, “You’ll have to ask them.”

None would speak to the matter on record, but one person who said she was an employee, called The Sentinel-News last week, saying the fact that employees no longer could park in the church lot was causing them concern because the 2-block walk between 2nd and 4th streets is “not the best neighborhood to be walking so far by yourself.”

Although it’s not known how many judicial center employees share that employee’s view, the center’s empty parking lot, located next to St. James Episcopal Church, offers testament to the issue.

 

Why two blocks away?

Leigh Ann Hiatt, spokesperson for the Administrative Office of the Courts, said that the decision of where to locate the parking lot for the $22 million, 58,000 square-foot facility was made at the local level.

“That decision was made by the project development board that oversaw that project,” she said.

That board consists of Rothenburger, Miller, Circuit Judge Charles Hickman, attorney Lewis Mathis, AOC Rep. Leesa Carpenter and Magistrate Hubie Pollett.

Why would such a group go to the trouble to make the second most expensive project in the county’s history – second only in expense to Collins High School at $51 million – such a first-rate facility without using the same diligence regarding parking?

Some members of the board said they did not believe the location of the parking lot was inconvenient. Several options were reviewed because the lot was built, and the location and the option on land were deciding factors.

Miller said, although he understands that it’s human nature for people not to want to walk any farther than they have to, he did not think the distance is too far to walk.

“If you go to a mall or Walmart, it’s about the same walking distance,” Miller said, who, as an elected official, has a reserved parking spot in the secure, gated lot behind the judicial center.

Pollett said the board decided to put the parking lot on 2nd Street because they wanted the judicial center to be located downtown and, that being the case, there simply wasn’t anyplace else to put the lot.

“I guess we could have put it in Mount Eden or somewhere, then we would have had plenty of room,” he said with a wry laugh.

“We were trying to maintain it in downtown, and everybody agreed that we needed to stay as close to the old courthouse as we could, the sheriff’s office, for security and all that, so that was the best spot.

“It was close to downtown, it was close to all the attorneys, you know, it was the logical place to put it. There is plenty of room, and actually, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not that far away from the court house [judicial center].”

 

Where are they parking?

So where are people – employees and customers alike – parking? The answer would appear to be as close to the judicial center as they can get, and that includes many places they shouldn’t be parking.

A sign on the door of the judicial center gives the location of the parking lot, which is designated at 2nd and Main only by a small, upright sign of horse, depicting the Unbridled Spirit as a state emblem. The notice also warns against parking at the post office next door.

There are a limited number of parking spaces in front of and behind the building – with a 2-hour limit – and visitors to the center can be seen hunting for parking spaces all along Main Street, including spaces in front of businesses.

The two places that have been the most impacted by the situation are those on either side of the judicial center, the Shelbyville Post Office and the Centenary United Methodist Church.

“The last week that [former postmaster] Chip [Robinson] was here, we had a couple of people that had to be towed,” said Vince Burke, postmaster of two weeks at the Shelbyville Post Office.

Miller said that occasionally he is contacted by post office officials, asking him to help locate people in the judicial center who have parked in their lot and get them to move their cars to avoid being towed.

“I just go up to the courtroom and make an announcement,” he said.

Knipp said the church would revisit the matter in July to determine whether another solution can be found.

“We certainly wish that we were not forced to take this action as it will undoubtedly be a burden to some, but the actions of a few have presented us little option,” he said.