Residents discuss parking issues at special meeting

Nearly 20 local residents, senior citizens, business owners and employees were in attendance at a special parking meeting held Monday evening at City Hall. St. Marys Mayor Sally Geyer and City Councilman Dick Dornisch hosted the meeting, during which attendees discussed their concerns and potential solutions to parking in downtown St. Marys. The special meeting came out of residents' outcry at the Oct. 17 St. Marys City Council meeting, when council was to vote on an ordinance amending portions of the city code pertaining to areas of permitted parking, an increase in parking fines and the closing of city lots and off-street parking from 2-6 a.m. "These problems are solvable without having to tear up the ordinance," Geyer said, noting that she took time to walk around downtown reviewing parking options.At the conclusion of the nearly 2.5-hour meeting, the following recommendations will be presented to council: increase parking fines from $2 to $3 rather than $5; keep the same $5 fine for violating off-street parking from 2-6 a.m, rather than the formerly proposed $10 - the additional fines will remain the same as proposed at the recent city council meeting; leave all city parking lots open 24 hours a day rather than closing them between 2-6 a.m.; and change the middle section of parking meters inside the Depot Street lot to four-hour time limits rather than the current two hours. This encompasses 18 parking spots in the two center rows.After Geyer and Dornisch present their recommendations to council on Nov. 7, Council will have two weeks to review them. Dornisch said his main concern was the proposed 150 percent increase in parking fines, which he described as "nonsense." He questioned as to how the city expects to draw more businesses downtown when they are making it more difficult for people to find parking and said businesses have to police themselves when it comes to their employees taking up prime parking spots which should be reserved for customers."People are wound up about this thing and I frankly don't blame them," Dornisch said.A majority of those in attendance agreed that closing the lots from 2-6 a.m. year-round, when it is only necessary a few times during winter months for snow removal, is not a solution. City Manager Dave Greene stated while the city's road crews are out at 2 a.m. clearing the snow, the parking lots are not the first on their list to be cleared. He added they are reviewing options of how to clear the snow off the top level of the parking garage as well.Jeff Buchheit, downtown resident and former business owner, inquired if lots could just be blocked off with road cones as they are being plowed for that brief time, rather than the entire 2-6 a.m. duration. Jackie Severance, a downtown resident and business owner, has spoken in favor of more customer-friendly parking downtown at recent City Council meetings. She prepared a synopsis of parking issues in downtown St. Marys which she handed out at Monday's meeting.Severance's report states there are approximately "400 parking spaces which make money for the city on a daily basis." She said of those spaces, nearly 246 are metered spaces, 14 are handicap spaces, 147 are permit spaces, and there are three red meters and 31 unregulated parking spaces."Parking is a town-wide problem," Severance said.According to Greene, it costs $35 per parking meter to upgrade in order to change the number of hours available to park. He said the city owns meters with two- and 12-hour time limits. Currently there are three, 12-hour meters located behind the Community Education Council building; however, the same vehicles are parked there all day long.Among the potential changes proposed by Councilmen Steve Skok and Bob Roberts, who worked together as a parking committee on the project, are an increase in fines from $2 to $5 for parking meter violations; $5 to $10 for parking in closed city lots or on streets with no off-street parking from 2-6 a.m.; and $15 to $20 fines for more serious parking violations such as double parking, parking by a fire hydrant or parking in a yellow (no parking) zone. Greene noted that parking meters are currently enforced until 8 p.m.Also proposed was no parking in any city lot or on-street parking from 2-6 a.m.