It’s a bike vs. business battle, right here in the heart of Lakewood.
The fate of two small neighborhood businesses teeters on a decision the City made two years ago, a decision that doesn’t appear to be consistently applied throughout the City. Now that the problem and the contradictions have been brought to the City’s attention, however, there’s seemingly no appetite to right what could be an expensive wrong for the family owners of Paciugo and Jarams Donuts.
Cement-curb-protected bike lanes installed in front of these neighborhood businesses during last year’s Abrams Road reconstruction replaced customer parking spaces the businesses’ customers have used since the 1950s.
The City’s design decision, placing bike lanes over parking, is crushing these small businesses, the owners say. Paciugo remains closed as a result of the bike lanes, and Jarams’ owners say it’s making a hard business harder.
In 2008, April Walding opened Paciugo Gelato at 2115 Abrams, across from Whole Foods Market. Paciugo seems a perfect fit for the neighborhood — a small, locally owned business serving a community that loves supporting small, locally owned businesses.
On top of owning and operating the gelato store, Walding and her husband bought a partial interest in the building in 2014. They doubled down in 2018, becoming the full owner of the real estate that housed Paciugo and the then-closed Glo Dry Cleaners next door at 2117 Abrams. Today, the Waldings are the landlord for both Jarams Donuts at 2117 Abrams and the empty space next door that Paciugo once occupied. In September 2020, when Walding’s newborn was five months old, the pandemic was searing the economy, a potential buyer had moved on, and it looked like the upcoming winter was going to hurt her seasonal business.
“It seemed a good time for me to close the store, take a breath and focus on my new daughter,” Walding says.
February of 2021 rolls around. It’s early onset of spring fever. And Walding says she began to think about re-opening her store. Work on Abrams had been going on for several months, and she drove to the shop to watch the roadwork.
“Like lots of 7-year-old boys, my son is fascinated by construction equipment,” Walding says.
Walding notices what looks like curb construction in front of her building. Then she sees it’s not a curb in the conventional sense, but a raised concrete barrier between her existing sidewalk and vehicle lanes on Abrams. And then the gut punch: The lane reserved for bicycles has replaced her only available customer parking.
According to the Dallas Central Appraisal District, the building at 2115 Abrams was built in 1954, but other evidence exists that it may be even older. As far back as records can be found, parking has always been available in front of the building for customers who patronize the small businesses located there. Prior to gelato and donuts, neighbors remember a flower shop and dry cleaners. For a few years, the building housed a casket company with a showroom. Long-timers even remember a liquor store in the 1970s.
Whichever businesses have occupied the buildings, they all have utilized customer parking directly in front of them.
For more than 65 years, patrons have been able to park for a few minutes, buy a six-pack, get the dry cleaning, pick up a mum, enjoy a gelato, or buy a Halloween donut with a green witch on it.
Here’s the rub: Sixty-five years or not, the parking utilized by owners and customers is in the public right of way. That little piece of real estate has always been owned by the building owners but legally reserved for use by the City to expand Abrams … or in this case, to add bike lanes.
Perhaps a sophisticated real estate investor should have looked at the survey, noticed the right of way and closed the deal with eyes wide open. The Waldings aren’t blameless here, and they acknowledge it. But 65 years of history just cast aside by the City?
After Walding saw the bike lane construction already underway last year, she hit the panic button. She considered selling the building. She set up a meeting at the site and gathered District 9 Council member Paula Blackmon (who represents the area where Walding lives), District 14 Council member David Blewett (who at the time represented the area where the business is located) and several members of the City staff.
Walding says she received lots of sympathy but was offered no solutions.
Blackmon recalls the meeting and — seeing the consequences of the bike lanes — says she supports bikes lanes in the City but now says “I do support looking at these again.” Blewett, who lost his re-election bid to Paul Ridley in 2021, goes further, calling the bike lane a “mistake.”
Blair Ji and her family are caught in the squeeze, too. Her Korean parents immigrated to the United States 20 years ago and opened the first Jarams Donuts near the University of Texas at Dallas in 2012. They expanded their version of the American Dream to Lakewood in 2019.
The loss of parking is “hurting our business a lot,” Ji says.
“It’s a donut shop. Customers come and go at a quick pace,” Ji says. “Now they have no idea where to go. Veritex Bank and 7-Eleven (both are adjacent businesses) have been gracious, as our customers will often park in their lots, but they are not going to give up parking for us.”
Ji has also seen customers become confused (or feel entitled), park in the bike lane and wind up being ticketed by the City for illegal parking. She says customers online rave about her donuts but drop a few stars because of the parking predicament. Her family is frustrated and worried about the future of the business, Ji says.
Walding says she has had several conversations with Dr. Robert Perez, the City’s director of Public Works, and suggested possible solutions while noting inconsistencies in how the City has installed bike lanes elsewhere. Walding says she’s willing to give up the necessary real estate to try and accommodate bike lanes while also maintaining some parking for her building and retaining a safe walking space.
“No can do,” the City says.
Meanwhile, there’s a bus stop in front of Juliette Fowler Communities, which is south of Walding’s building on Abrams near where the street winds east and changes to Columbia. It’s the same stretch of roadway where the City installed bike lanes on both sides of the street.
How did the City resolve the conflict of a continuous bike lane that blocks vehicle access to the front of a DART bus stop?
At that Fowler site, the City terminated the bike lane at the bus stop, put up a sign that says “Bike Lane Ends” and provided plenty of room for a bus to park and pick up passengers.
Can the City do the same for three parking spaces in front of Walding’s building?
“Nope,” the City says.
Walding says there’s a theme to the City’s efforts: “If the City wanted to help, they could find a way to help.”
Walding says she reached out to new District 14 Council member Paul Ridley, who represents the area where her building is located. Despite several emails she shared with the Advocate showing multiple attempts at communication, Walding says Ridley has not spoken with her personally on the phone or as part of a meeting about the issue.
Instead, she has heard from Ridley’s staff, who she says told her that Ridley “stands behind” Perez’s decision. Max Sanchez, the council liaison for District 14, said in an email to The Advocate that since taking office, Ridley has met with Public Works & Transportation to “explore any options for Ms. Walding.” Later, we followed up with Ridley and his office and he has no further comment.
In a Dec. 10, 2021, email Perez reminded Walding via email that prior to beginning construction on the bike lane, the City held four separate public meetings seeking community input about the Abrams reconstruction:
- Aug. 7, 2018 — Public Meeting at Boys and Girl Club
- Aug. 14, 2018 — Public Meeting at Lakewood Branch Library
- Oct. 23, 2018 — Public Meeting at Boys and Girls Club
- July 29, 2019 — Public Meeting at Boys and Girls Club
Notices were sent to 386 property owners regarding the improvements and encouraged neighbors to attend the meetings. Walding says she wasn’t a full building owner for the first three meetings and wouldn’t have received a notice. And she says she didn’t receive a notice for the final meeting in July 2019.
The City clearly met requirements for reaching out to neighbors and impacted business owners about the proposed changes.
In a Dec. 21, 2021, email to Walding, Perez says: “Furthermore, we cannot put bicyclists in the vehicular lanes of a major thoroughfare to allow for use of the public right-of-way for a private purpose.”
Walding says that’s exactly what the City is constructing on Richmond Avenue today. Construction has started on a Richmond Avenue configuration that has a bicycle lane in the middle of a vehicular lane, with parking for private vehicles on both sides of Richmond in the public right of way.
Hoping to raise awareness and save her business and Jarams, Walding started a petition on Change.org to organize opposition to the bike lanes as built. At press time, six days after publishing the petition, 282 people have signed it.
Melanie Vanlandingham, a resident of Lakewood Heights, is a professional urban designer and talked with the City’s Public Works and Transportation department staff during the planning and construction of both the Richmond and Abrams improvements. An advocate for bike lanes and road diets, Vanlandingham says she doesn’t like the current design and believes the City can right the wrong in front of Paciugo and Jarams.
“Now that the Richmond work is underway, the City can make a change and balance the Abrams and Richmond solutions to provide bike lanes and return the parking for these unique Lakewood small businesses,” Vanlandingham says.
“Eliminate these bike lanes and the concrete barrier, and connect Richmond and Abrams using a route of Alderson and Prospect. Return the use of right of way to parking for Paciugo and Jarams. This previously suggested alternative by neighbors would be effective in benefitting drivers, cyclists and business.”
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