Some old-fashioned political diplomacy has resulted in a compromise between the city of Wichita and a local brewery whose owners were upset over parking fees in the lot adjacent to their just-opened business.
Last month, I reported about a battle between Nortons Brewing Company, a new brewery and restaurant that opened in April at 125 N. St. Francis, and Wichita Transit, the city department in charge of enforcing parking in the lots that surround the brewery.
But the two sides have reached a temporary compromise thanks to the help of two Wichita City Council members who decided to intervene.
The dispute started when Nortons' owners, Dan and Becky Norton, expressed outrage on social media that parking stalls were painted and a pay box was erected in the city-owned parking lot directly south of their entrance just as they were wrapping up construction. Parking hadn't been enforced there in years, they said, and they accused the city of a "money grab."
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Wichita Transit, meanwhile, said that the lot had always been a pay lot and that it was within their right to collect $2 parking fees (and $25 from tickets issued to violators) that would help maintain the lots. Wichita Transit senior management analyst Scott Wadle said that the brewery owners should have checked on the rules of the lot before signing a lease.
By early June, the two sides were at a standoff, and Wichita Transit had announced plans to begin enforcing the lot on nights and weekends in addition to its usual weekday hours.
That's when council member Cindy Claycomb, whose district includes Nortons, and fellow council member Pete Meitzner intervened.
Claycomb said the two stopped in at Nortons a few weeks ago to talk to the owners about their complaints.
"We just started looking at it, and it didn't make sense that we had all this controversy," Claycomb said. "The city has to bring in money on that parking lot — that is how we pay to maintain it — but at the same time, Nortons had moved in there and not realized that they needed to pay for that."
The pair took the Nortons' concerns to City Manager Robert Layton, and they were able to work out a compromise. For the next year, the city will continue to enforce the lot on weekdays until 5 p.m. but will leave it free on nights and weekends.
The deal will last until next July, Claycomb said. The city is about to undertake a big parking study that will look more closely at how it should manage city lots.
"We kind of put our heads together and said, 'Let's figure out something here so this doesn't have to be a big deal.'"
Nortons posted about the compromise last week on its Facebook page and reminded customers of other free parking spaces near the business.
"We are thankful for Cindy Claycomb stepping in and helping us out! She’s boss!" the post said, finishing with the hashtags #smallvictory and #thelittleguy.