City softens parking changes

Removes 24-hour restriction based on community response

BUCKHANNON — Buckhannon City Council on Thursday approved on first reading an ordinance that would modify the city’s parking ordinance — but not without curbing one controversial tenet of the law.

Council voted to strike two sections of Ordinance 422 — generally known as the city’s parking ordinance — that limit downtown parking in Buckhannon’s C-1 downtown commercial district to two hours within a 24-hour period, following an outpouring of concern from residents who felt the rule was too restrictive.

A draft of the ordinance presented at council’s Dec. 7 limited free two-hour parking in the lot across from the post office on Spring Street to two hours for any one vehicle within a 24-hour period. Similarly, free parking on city streets — specifically in Buckhannon’s C-1 Commercial District — had also been restricted to two cumulative hours in any 24-hour period.

Mayor David McCauley noted there had been “some backlash” after The Record Delta published an article on the proposed changes.

“First, let me say if there is anybody in the state of West Virginia that wants to come forth and say that they have a more liberal parking policy, that is pro-user, pro-visitor, pro-resident, pro-business than what our policy is, I’d like to know about it,” McCauley said, “because there’s been all this stuff on social media about ‘stop the insanity’ and this kind of junk. This is an outstanding policy.”

McCauley said following a slew of parking committee meetings over the past several years, the city had removed all parking meters and expanded free parking.

“We established a policy where you no longer pay to park in any of the parking lots for 21 of the 24 hours of any day,” McCauley said. “That’s unheard of … We’re even more user-friendly, so ‘stop the insanity,’ I agree, let’s quit talking about something that you don’t understand.”

Councilman CJ Rylands — who served on the committee that crafted the revamped policy — said $5,000 had been invested to complete a comprehensive parking study that was unanimously approved by both council and the city’s Consolidated Public Works Board. The two goals of the parking policy overhaul were to “maximize usability of available parking spots” and reduce parking fines.

Rylands explained the genesis of the new ordinance and how the city’s parking committee arrived at the decision to limit parking in the city’s C-1 downtown commercial district to two cumulative hours within a 24-hour period.

“This last edit in our brainstorming meetings, we were saying, what can we do to modify the behavior of the chronic violator? The person that rolls their car (forward) once it’s marked or goes around the corner, and that’s where this cumulative two hours in a 24-hour period came in,” Rylands said.

However, the councilman said he thought some residents’ opposition to the two-hour rule had some merit.

“I don’t disagree with some of the chatter about that being a little too restrictive,” Rylands said. “We want to be careful and cautious that we’re not creating something that, if enforced, could be an onerous responsibility or [a burden] on the citizens. To say cumulatively within 24 hours for any discrete (single, separate) vehicle, a particular individual’s vehicle, if enforced, would be a problem, I think.”

Councilman Robbie Skinner agreed with Rylands.

“I, too, really struggle with the 24-hour period because I’m not sure how we’re going to enforce that,” said Skinner, who is also finishing his term as president of the Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce.

Skinner suggested talking to business owners who park in front of their businesses on Main Street for long periods of time in an attempt to convince them to change their behavior.

“I know it’s time-consuming, [but maybe we need to] just have a conversation about how this is the goal here — we want people to have the most access to parking on Main Street because that drives business into the stores,” Skinner said. “People aren’t just going to come back later. Some, if they don’t find a parking spot, they’re just going to keep going somewhere else, and that’s potential lost revenue.”

City recorder Dr. Susan Aloi said two cumulative hours might not allow people enough time to attend meetings or mix downtown dining with shopping.

“If you want to eat out and shop, two hours might not be sufficient time,” Aloi said.

The city recorder also noted that the city had received a letter from one resident who worried that two hours was too short a time frame for handicapped individuals or those with disabilities to complete their downtown errands.

Skinner said, “From a public relations standpoint, we could be hurting ourselves a little bit because what we don’t want to create is, ‘They’re trying to make it difficult to go downtown.’ We don’t want that. Just because a few people are abusing [the free parking], we could curb it by having some conversations.”

McCauley said the city’s parking committee had been working to revise the policy since November 2015, also mentioning that violators receive two written warnings prior to being ticketed.

Rylands said this latest version of the ordinance was aimed at modifying the behavior of chronic violators.

“I don’t know if we want to put something in for 98 percent of the people when 2 percent of the people cause problems, and then we’re sending a message, ‘If you go downtown for lunch, you can’t go down for dinner,’” Rylands said. “Or if you get your hair done, you can’t go to the bank in the same day. It isn’t the reality ... because it won’t get enforced that way.”

Rylands suggested eliminating the parts of the ordinance that ban downtown parking for any single vehicle for more than two cumulative hours in a 24-hour period.

“It’s being interpreted as if you come downtown, and the clock ticks, and once you get two hours, you can’t bring your car back downtown if you take a literal interpretation of how this is written,” he said.

Former parking enforcement officer Morgan Clutter, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said she’s tried talking to some downtown business owners who routinely disobey the two-hour free parking policy.

“They think they deserve to park in front of their business for as long as they feel like, because it’s their business,” Clutter said. “I don’t agree with the cumulative two hours within 24 hours, because that’s difficult to enforce.”

McCauley said he was anxious to move the ordinance forward. The first version of the modified parking ordinance was approved in fall 2016 and effectuated in January 2017.

“I want to move this ordinance along in some form,” McCauley said. “Why don’t we just take out the cumulative (two hours) within a 24-hour period tonight?”

Councilwoman Mary Albaugh made a motion to strike those two sections of the ordinance and advance it to second reading, which will take place at the city’s Jan. 4, 2018 meeting. Rylands seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.

Several other regulations in the ordinance will remain intact, including a section that requires any vehicles parked in city lots to maintain updated inspection stickers and registrations. Following the meeting, McCauley said someone could be ticketed for leaving a parked car with an outdated inspection sticker or registration in one of the city’s lots.

“That’s state statute,” McCauley said. “If you park on any street in the state of West Virginia and you don’t have an inspection sticker or your registration is expired, you can get a ticket for that.”

The revised ordinance also establishes paid parking via a kiosk in a portion of the Spring Street lot (Section A) by the Salvation Army and free two-hour parking in the remainder of the lot. Parking in the paid section — comprised of 18 spaces — will cost 25 cents an hour and be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of the three hours between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. so city crews can sweep streets.

In addition, a monthly parking pass for either $25 or $12.50 will grant unlimited 24-hour-a-day parking in certain downtown lots. Finally, the ordinance says that vehicles parked in all lots  — with the exception of Lot 6, beside the old bank drive-thru on Madison Street — must be moved for a minimum of 30 minutes within any given week.

According to Ordinance 409, penalties for violating the parking ordinance vary according to the offense, ranging from warning citations to $500 fees. If approved on second reading at the Jan. 4, 2018 meeting, the ordinance would go into effect Feb. 3, 2018.

Rylands noted that revisions to the parking ordinance remain a work-in-progress.

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