Local resident again asks council to curtail public parking near Wesleyan

BUCKHANNON — City council plans to revisit a tabled ordinance that could limit parking around West Virginia Wesleyan College — and potentially Buckhannon Academy Elementary School — to neighborhood residents only after a group of citizens complained their neighborhood was being “crippled” by nonresidents parking in front of their houses.

At the beginning of the Thursday, Sept. 6 council meeting, Dr. Timothy Reese, who has previously appeared before council to address the issue, said he was back to urge council to act on the tabled ordinance.

The draft ordinance would have limited parking on a handful of streets surrounding the college to only neighborhood residents between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Reese, at the time, informed council that he and other College Avenue residents find it difficult to park in front of — or even near — their houses due to college students and some faculty and staff leaving their vehicles on neighborhood streets for extended periods of time.

Reese said that instead of purchasing parking spots on campus, students were parking on city streets because it’s free and usually closer to their destinations.

Although council ultimately tabled the ordinance in July after Wesleyan administration officials asked the city to give them a chance to work with students and faculty, mayor David McCauley said at council’s Aug. 2 meeting that Reese had been in talks with Wesleyan administrators to develop a new ordinance, according to a previous Record Delta article.

But at Thursday’s meeting, Reese said he was appealing to council to take quicker and more definitive action.

This time, however, Reese said it wasn’t just Wesleyan students, staff and faculty who were contributing to the problem — it was also Buckhannon Academy Elementary School employees.

“We are here to ask you to mitigate our problem of being burdened by college students and in another case, Academy School employees consuming our on-street parking,” Reese said.

A number of individuals representing various parts of College Avenue — including Rick and Sharon Wright; Bill and Peggy Dahlheim; Pat Strader; and Marilyn and Mike McCauley, among them — attended Thursday’s council meeting.

“I wanted you all to know this is not about me,” Reese said of his guests. “Academy School employees are consuming the on-street parking and blocking driveways and obstructing views for exiting those driveways. We have seven signed petitions, all full-time residents.”

In addition to the seven signed letters from residents who live near Academy, Reese said he also brought 26 signed letters from people who lived on sections of Florida Street, Meade Street, College Avenue, Barbour Street, Fayette Street and Pocahontas petitioning council for relief.

“I stopped seeking petitions when it was clear that a majority of the aforementioned residents were in favor of an ordinance to remedy this situation,” Reese told council. “The consumption of our on-street parking by college students or Academy Grade School employees weakens our neighborhood by impairing our ability to move materials for housekeeping and maintenance, hindering our efforts at landscaping by ourselves or contractors and prohibits the city street sweeper from removing leaf debris which allows excessive nutrients to be funneled into our city’s water source causing algae and bacteria … which burdens our city’s ability to treat our water.”

Reese said the issue also hampers snow removal efforts and residents’ ability to receive friends and family for visits; stops contractors and home health workers from gaining access to neighborhood properties; and ultimately “cripples our neighborhood.”

McCauley asked for input from city attorney Tom O’Neill.

“I think I would take issue with Dr. Reese’s characterization of this issue of College Avenue and Academy employees,” O’Neill said. “This has never been raised before. The ordinance is drafted and discussions are ongoing and I don’t know what to say other than the ordinance is drafted and it’s available for consideration at whatever time that the council wishes to take it up.”

O’Neill added he thought the city hadn’t given the college sufficient time to solve the issue by working with problematic parkers.

“There was an agreement that there was going to be some attempt by the college [administration] to mitigate this issue on their own, and we’re three or four weeks into the semester. As a policy matter … I don’t know that those attempts have been given adequate time to set yet,” O’Neill said, noting the area around BAES would need to be added to the ordinance.

The current draft of the ordinance calls for permit parking only on certain streets in a delineated zone between 8 a.m. and
4 p.m. Monday through Friday; the issuance of two parking permits per residential dwelling; the erection of “residential-only” parking signage; and the institution of a fine for violators.

Councilman Robbie Skinner suggested a compromise involving the implementation of a two-hour parking policy.

“What if we designate a parking area that has a two-hour turnaround and leave it at that, because it seems to me that we would be eliminating the permit, which carries a lot of concern [for some residents], and we would require vehicles to turn around every two hours? That would restrict people from just coming and camping out all day.”

Reese countered that a two-hour policy would force neighborhood residents to move their vehicles every two hours; instead, he suggested such a two-hour policy could apply to nonresidents only.

Councilman David Thomas said he was aware of colleges that remedy the problem by applying a boot to the offending vehicle. 

“Some colleges went to a boot system where they actually put a boot on the car and the person couldn’t move their car until they went to the security office,” Thomas remarked. “Whatever we do, we’re glad that Wesleyan’s here. We need to try to figure out a system working with Wesleyan and working with Academy. We’ve got to come to a solution that involves everybody.”

Councilman CJ Rylands echoed Thomas’ comments, saying it’s key the city, college and grade school collaborate to arrive at a solution “without appearing not aligned with being a welcoming community.”

McCauley suggested O’Neill rework the ordinance to include the zone around Academy — and possibly an area around the Parish House on Sedgwick Street and College Avenue — and reconsider it at its Sept. 20 meeting. 

“We’re all about transparency,” the mayor said. “[Upshur County Schools Superintendent Dr.] Sara Stankus and [Wesleyan president Dr.] Joel Thierstein don’t want to be bad neighbors,” McCauley said. “They’re not aware of the specifics of the problem.”

“We will more than tweak but less than gut the ordinance and bring it back to the table as a draft at the next meeting with the anticipation that we’ll take action on it in October,” McCauley added.


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