Mayor Robbie Skinner at Thursday's Consolidated Public Works Board meeting.

Consolidated votes to revise downtown parking ordinance

BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon’s Consolidated Public Works Board has voted to revise the city’s parking ordinance to encourage parking turnover downtown.

The board voted to start the revision process during the Sept. 24 meeting after seeing and hearing about several instances of chronic violators of the current ordinance. The board is specifically looking at only giving violators one warning, potentially modifying penalties and implementing a 24-hour cumulative period restriction for on-street parking downtown.

Owner of Sweet-A-Licious Michelle Jack started the Sept. 24 conversation after attending the previous meeting to implore the board to do something about people continually violating the two-hour parking policy on Main Street.

“Last month we all decided to review the ordinance, so I wanted to get an update on what the board may be thinking,” Jack said. “In the last couple of weeks, it has been atrocious with parking – atrocious is probably an understatement, this is an issue, and I was wanting to get an update on that.”

Jack said a specific person has been parking in front of her shop past the two-hour period habitually for a while now.

“I think it’s very clear this ordinance isn’t working,” Jack said. “I have a person parking in front of my shop for 14 hours a day, in a two-hour parking spot.”

Sweet-A-Licious owner Michelle Jack

The board members were asked to look over the current ordinance after their last meeting and board member Nancy Shobe said the current system for warnings and penalties was too confusing.

“It’s saying on a first occasion, the person shall receive a warning citation and then on a second occasion, shall be sent a warning letter by certified mail and then it says, if they are found guilty, they shall be fined $50, and any subsequent offenses arising within the 24-month period following the date of citation issued,” Shobe said. “That’s a little confusing, and I talked with the parking enforcement officer; she said that after that second occasion where the warning letter is sent out, she’s been told she has to wait two weeks before she can even issue another ticket. Now, there’s a problem there.”

Shobe said a person wouldn’t receive a ticket for at least a month, which makes the system too slow.

“The reasoning behind the warnings was trying to modify the behavior of the chronic violator without snaring up the first-time visitor to town or the person that pulled up in front of their business and something distracted them and they left their car a little while, so that you don’t get hammered,” Board member CJ Rylands said. “We don’t want to operate a punitive parking policy that ensnares people that have infractions occasionally. We’re trying to get the people that are causing the problem all the time.”

Mayor Robbie Skinner said it seemed the biggest problem is a handful of people not abiding by the two-hour parking rule.

“It’s not everybody, it is really just a very select few people, and it’s unfortunate that very select group of two or three or four people are the reason we’re having this conversation,” Skinner said. “I see people turning over all day – all day long – and that’s what we want.”

Jack said another issue is vehicles stay in one place for almost two hours and then move the vehicle up one space or across the street and continue that pattern all day. Skinner said that would be a problem because the parking enforcement officer marks a vehicle’s tire with chalk, to indicate how long they have been in the street and if they move, she cannot see the chalk mark.

“Right now, if she goes up and puts a chalk mark on a tire and it rolls over and the line isn’t showing, by the time she goes back, it looks like it’s a brand-new vehicle,” Skinner said.

Shobe said she didn’t think the potential penalty was enough to discourage constant offenders.

“If the local offender does not change his or her ways, the city police should then issue a significant fine; I think that’s the difference here,” Shobe said. “That’s what we’re not seeing here. The police can go talk to them, but with our current ordinance, they can flip across the street and start all over again.”

The board agreed some changes should be made to the current parking ordinance, but the process could take a while.

“This particular ordinance was passed on three readings, so it was introduced Aug. 18 under first reading in 2016, the second reading was Sept. 1 2016, and the third reading passage and adoption was Sept. 15 of 2016, and then typically they take effect 30 days from the passage,” Skinner said. “If we got started on this, the first of October, we’re talking first of the year before it actually gets officially changed.”

The official motion made by the board was to begin work on revising Ordinance 409 to one warning and then a 24-hour cumulative period restriction of on-street parking downtown with the intention of reviewing and potentially modifying the penalties.

Board member Pam Bucklew made the motion and Shobe seconded; the motion passed unanimously.

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