At one time or another, everyone has done it. Circling and circling and then jockeying for a precious parking space in the heart of historic downtown Mount Dora. Although snowbird season creates the most significant parking challenges, off-season can still be difficult. There are 720 public parking spaces downtown; yet if all the restaurants are full, there is a shortage of 200 spaces, according to city officials. The increase in restaurants in the downtown core has contributed to the shortage, because they are exempt from providing customer parking that eateries in other parts of the city are required to provide. Additionally, restaurants typically have more staff and longer customer-stays than their retail counterparts. The City of Mount Dora is considering a mix of short- and long-term options to remedy the shortage. At an April 27 workshop, Mount Dora City Council was presented with a proposal for an expansive, 60-foot tall, four-level parking garage downtown with lawn bowling and a clubhouse on the fifth level. The structure, conceived and proposed by City Manager Robin Hayes, had 596 parking spaces and would incorporate the site of the existing garage on Donnelly Street and extend across Charles Street and include valuable city property on Edgerton Court that is currently leased by the lawn bowling club. The proposed two-block garage exceeded the 35-foot downtown building height maximum which residents have passionately fought to preserve. Councilmembers Mark Slaby and Laurie Tillet acknowledged the need for a parking garage, but were sharply critical of the size and location of the proposed project because it was drastically out of scale and character for the city’s historic downtown. That design and location has since been permanently taken off the table, according to city spokesperson, Lisa McDonald.
4-level parking garage with lawn bowling on 5th level proposed in April for downtown.
Other parking options include leasing or purchasing a lot from First Presbyterian Church at East Sixth Avenue and Alexander Street, as well as time-limit parking. A pilot program for parking shuttles, modeled after the successful one in Stuart, Florida, was introduced to Mount Dora last year by Tillet. The electric shuttles were utilized during Mount Dora’s festivals and upon budget approval, the city may acquire similar shuttles to transport visitors from parking lots in other parts of the city into downtown. The new vehicles will take three months for delivery after the manufacturer is given the green light. There have been efforts to encourage owners and employees of downtown restaurants and stores to park outside the downtown core or in the parking garage to allow more spaces for customers, but compliance is voluntary and deficient. Parking alternatives will continue to be explored by city staff and the issue will be re-examined by the City Council before October.