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In this photo from an October 2020 Buckhannon City Council meeting, councilman CJ Rylands provides feedback regarding Ordinance 447, which finally passed unanimously on third reading at council's Dec. 3 meeting.

After months of discussion, council passes revamped downtown parking enforcement policy

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon will begin a new year with a new parking ordinance – or at least one that’s revamped to reflect a stricter enforcement policy designed to crack down on repeat offenders.

Following months of discussions at Buckhannon City Council and Consolidated Public Works Board meetings and several substantive revisions, city council on Thursday passed an updated parking ordinance that pertains primarily to how the city’s current two-hour free parking policy is enforced.

Two-hour free parking downtown on Main and surrounding streets won’t be affected by the ordinance, but the way violations are of it are handled will change.

The main changes in Ordinance 447, which is slated to go into effect Jan. 2, 2021, include:

  • Heightening fines for repeat offenders from $25 across the board to $25 on first offense, $50 on second offense and $100 on third or subsequent offense. In addition, each violator is entitled to two warnings prior to the issuance of a citation. However, within one 24-hour period, you are only entitled to one warning.
  • The addition of a ‘calendar-year’ reset, meaning each vehicle owner is entitled to two warnings per calendar year, which begins Jan. 1 and ends Dec. 31. Violations and warnings are expunged at the end of each calendar year.
  • The specification that moving one’s vehicle across the street or up the street several spaces does not constitute a ‘reset’ of the two-hour free parking period. In other words, a vehicle must be moved to an entirely different street for their two-hour free period to restart.

Following a public hearing on Ordinance 447, the revised downtown parking ordinance, and a third and final reading on the document at city council’s Dec. 3 meeting, city recorder Randy Sanders suggested council members defer to councilman CJ Rylands to make a motion to approve – or not approve – the ordinance.

Rylands has been a staunch advocate of the city’s two-hour free parking policy and a proponent of the practice of requiring parking enforcement officers to issue two warnings prior to giving out an actual citation. Rylands and other members of council have argued that issuing parking tickets to visitors too hastily would detrimentally impact Buckhannon’s ability to bring in visitors from outside the county to Buckhannon’s downtown.

Discussions about stiffening penalties originated in Consolidated Public Works Board meetings when a local business owner addressed the city about chronic parking policy violators parking in front of her establishment and leaving their vehicle or vehicles there for hours or even days at a time.

“I’d like to like to ask council to defer to Councilman Rylands if he’s so inclined [to make a motion to approve this] because he put a lot of footwork into this, a lot of activity and so forth,” Sanders said.

Rylands made a motion to approve the ordinance, which was seconded by Sanders prior to passing unanimously.

Mayor Robbie Skinner thanked Rylands, Sanders and city councilman Jack Reger for their input as the revised parking enforcement policy took shape.

“To some it may just be a parking ordinance, but to us this is a vital part of the [economic] health of our downtown, so I appreciate all of the work,” Skinner said. “I feel good about this.”

Sanders also thanked city attorney Tom O’Neill for his patience in drafting multiple versions of the ordinance so the final version would address various council members’ concerns about downtown parking.

“I would like to make one final comment – thanks to the city attorney for his patience and working through to achieve all the things that the different council members felt were important, so good job,” Sanders said.

The ordinance will go into Jan. 2, 2021, 30 days from its passage at Thursday’s council meeting.

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