With a major road in downtown Inverness torn up for construction, motorists wanting to get easy access to and from U.S. 41 south have been cutting through the Courthouse Annex parking lot.
At least they were. But a few days ago, the county blocked the North Apopka Avenue access and plans to keep it that way until the city’s road project is completed.
Commissioner Jimmie T. Smith, however, wants the access reopened. He said since the county requires cross-access for businesses, it should do the same for its own property.
“To me, there’s a double standard in the policy,” Smith, who placed the issue on Tuesday’s county commission agenda, said. “It’s the exact safety issues that businesses have brought forward to us.”
The Courthouse Annex houses both the property appraiser and tax collector. It’s located about a block north of the courthouse and is known as the “Stovall” building, taking the name of its prior owner.
Access to the parking lot comes from both Apopka and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. avenues; in fact, the driveways are exactly opposite of one another.
That’s allowed motorists to cross through the parking lot, causing a safety issue for pedestrians accessing the office from their vehicles.
Property Appraiser Les Cook said the issue was a concern before the city started its beautification project for Dampier Street, which intersects with both Apopka and MLK.
With the city doing both the street and Depot District park construction at the same time, that’s brought even more cross-traffic into the parking lot, he said.
“Sometimes people go through there faster than they should, even before the construction,” Cook said.
Cook sent a Sept. 25 email to County Administrator Randy Oliver, suggesting the county install speed bumps or strips, or a crosswalk connecting the parking lot to the building’s front entrance.
Cook said he expects the situation to worsen, not ease, when construction ends; the Depot District, with renovations to Liberty and Wallace Brooks parks, is expected to wrap up in November while the road construction may extend into early next year.
“In the long term there should be some permanent mild traffic strips/bumps at both ends of the parking lot to reduce the speed of those vehicles that use it as a cut through at high speeds,” Cook wrote. “With the speed bumps it would become much less popular.”
Oliver said the county considered speed bumps but dismissed using them for the safety of drivers.
“They could go airborne and lose control over what they’re driving,” he said.
Oliver said a crosswalk was not considered.
He said there is a difference between the Courthouse Annex parking lot and the county’s cross-access ordinance, which requires businesses to include access connections to the neighboring parking lot.
Cross access allows customers to go from one business to another without the need to drive back onto the highway, he said.
That isn’t the issue in the Courthouse Annex parking lot.
“We are concerned that someone may get hurt or killed as a result of the through traffic,” Oliver wrote in an email Wednesday to commissioners.
Smith said the county should find a solution that’s less restrictive than blocking an access driveway.
“We should allow traffic to move through,” he said. “As far as something permanent, the county should do things like crosswalks or speed bumps. That would be appropriate.”
Tax Collector Janice Warren said absent blocking Apopka access the county could do as she sees in commercial parking lots: marked pedestrian walkways and/or stop signs.
"We’ve had citizens with near misses with vehicles," she said. "Something had to be done."