By Jennifer Eisenbart
Round and round and round it goes. Where the discussion on parking in the City of Burlington stops? No one knows.
A parking study for the city’s downtown area was completed late last year, and as has been the case in the last few years, what to do with the results was a point of much discussion at the Common Council Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday night.
While parking has been discussed a good deal in the last two to three years, Alderman Tom Voss summed it up with a simple statement near the end of Tuesday night’s discussions.
“We’re beating a dead horse we’ve been beating to death for the last 30 years,” Vos said.
City Administrator Carina Walters started the discussion by presenting the report from Andy Miller from Carl Walker, Inc., which conducted the survey.
There were more than 400 responses for the online survey, but very few people showed up for a one-on-one discussion with Miller, who also met with city staff and officials.
The short version of Miller’s findings? There seems to ample downtown parking on the streets, and the only lot posing a particular issue is the one that keyed the study in the first place – the Livery Lot, located behind Fred’s Best Burgers.
That lot is a mix of public parking and private spots for residents in the apartments located above the downtown businesses on North Pine Street.
City Police Chief Mark Anderson said that residents can apply for a 24-hour parking permit for the public lots by paying $10 a month or $120 a year.
Those permits may be part of the problem – or part of the solution, depending on whom you ask. Common Council members floated the ideas of changing the lot to two-hour parking, leaving it alone or removing all parking ordinances entirely.
The last of those ideas, removing the parking restrictions, came about due to frustration with the lack of enforcement.
“Get rid of all the rules that we’re not enforcing,” said Alderman Jon Schultz, who has spoken up frequently in the last year about the city’s lack of enforcement on various issues. “I find it ridiculous to have rules that we’re not going to enforce.”
That idea gained some support, but so did the idea of adding back at least part-time parking enforcement. The city budgeted $30,000 for the 2017 budget to allow for parking enforcement.
The last time the city police had a dedicated parking enforcement officer was in 2012.
Whether or not part-time enforcement is enough, however, was also debated. Alderman Ruth Dawidziak said that part-time enforcement would likely be a “feel-good” solution, and people would find a way to work the system.
Dawidziak suggested full-time enforcement, which is something the city didn’t include in the 2017 budget.
The one business owner in attendance at the meeting finally was asked to speak after about a half-hour of debate. Kevin O’Brien, who owns Burlington Flowers and Interiors with his wife, said that he has a continuous issue with the 15-minute parking space in front of his building, and is tired of being the one reporting it – and being yelled at for it.
“Enforcement is weak. It’s very weak,” said O’Brien, adding that when he calls the police, they not only need to come out, but wait an additional 15 minutes to ticket the vehicle, which by then, he said, has been parked in the spot anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
He also said he has older employees who need to park closer than the downtown parking ramp in order to make it safely to work.
“People with physical issues can’t handle the walk from the garage,” he said.
He also said that downtown business owners are using on-street parking, and the only way to handle the problem will be to ticket vehicles, tow cars and get full-time parking enforcement.
The idea of parking meters was brought up, and immediately panned.
Walters finally asked the council to at least approve the study so the city could move forward with some of the suggestions made by Miller – better signage, better enforcement and better education on the various lots.