Three Rivers Planning Commission to review city street-parking ordinance

(left to right) City Commissioner Carolyn McNary listens to At-Large Commissioner Torrey Brown speak at a July Three Rivers City Commission meeting. (Beca Welty|Watershed Voice)

A change in the regulation of street parking in Three Rivers could be coming soon following discussions at the Wednesday evening Three Rivers City Commission meeting. Commissioners discussed both the parking and zoning ordinances at length, and ultimately passed the issue on to the planning commission for further review.

During public comments at the June 20 commission meeting a citizen requested for a review of the current ordinances that limit street parking. The citizen gave three options in an email: strictly enforce the ordinance, eliminate the ordinance restricting overnight parking, or stop enforcing the current ordinance. City Manager Joe Bippus drafted a report at the request of the commission, which will provide options for addressing the situation.

The current regulation on street parking states the chief of police with the approval of the city manager has the authority to establish vehicle parking time limits and parking spaces on public streets and on city-owned parking lots as deemed necessary in congested traffic areas. Currently, the city does not allow vehicles to be parked on a city street between the hours of 3:00 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. 

The report from Bippus to city commissioners included the pros and cons of having such an ordinance for street parking. Bippus listed benefits such as: the ordinance keeps streets clear, prevents people from sleeping or living in their vehicles, reduces large gatherings which result in rowdy parties, reduces “junk autos,” gives the neighborhood a more appealing appearance, assists in reducing crime, reduces traffic accidents, and provides easier access to emergency vehicles. 

Bippus listed cons to the ordinance including: the issuing of parking citations takes up officers’ time, residents may suffer fines, residents who own multiple vehicles may be inconvenienced due to them having to shuffle them around, it could restrict residents from having multiple vehicles, and the ordinance gives the impression of overreaching government authority.

In his report Bippus gave a few options for the commission to consider beginning with removing the restriction altogether. His next suggestion was to issue permit parking. This means the commission could develop a permit process that would allow people who wish to utilize street parking to pay for a permit and a specific spot on the street that allows parking in front of their residence. The city could deny a permit if it would cause a traffic hazard, restrict access to emergency vehicles, or violate another ordinance. 

Bippus also suggested a case-by-case exception. In this option the city commission could allow citizens to apply for an annual exemption based on lot size, family size, and unique lot configurations that make it impractical to use most of the driveway. In his last suggestion Bippus gave an option for changing the ordinance, which would allow driveways to be improved and use up a larger portion of the front yard for parking.

Commissioner Chris Abel kicked off discussions by saying he would personally like to explore the possibility of permits. “They’ve got to have a real reason why they need it, and then it would need to be something that I would say needs to be renewed yearly so that if it does become an issue, we can deny a permit in the future,” he said.

At-Large Commissioner Lucas Allen said he agreed with Abel saying, “I have a 2500 HD and a Yukon XL Denali. If we pass this ordinance I have no problem leaving all my vehicles out for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is not just a 3:00 to 5:30 thing, because I can promise you I’ll have my vehicles out there. It makes it easier for my wife, who’s beyond great, to not have to move vehicles and let kids go out, and there’s no excuse for them to say no to basketball.” Allen said he didn’t believe a permit should be welcomed because he thought it would be “everybody grabbing here and grabbing there, and there will be lots of excuses.”

“I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t allow my kids to go out and play basketball at 3:00 in the morning,” said At-Large Commissioner Torrey Brown. “It’s going to be during the daytime when you’re going to pull your cars out anyway for them to play (basketball). So, I don’t think that bears weight to this discussion.” Brown asked whether the city street sweepers could be set up on a district-by-district schedule, much like trash pickup, and that way residents would know what day to move their cars from the street. Bippus said he didn’t think that was an option because of how long it takes the street sweepers to clear certain districts. “We should work with the people,” Brown said, “If we’re expecting two inches of snow on a snow day we’re going to have the snow plow come and you can’t park on the street that day. I’ve lived in cities where they have those types of ordinances and it has worked.”

Mayor Tom Lowry spoke next, saying he didn’t believe the ordinance needed to be thrown out. “Basically, the ordinance works,” he said. Lowry said an option is already in place that many are not aware of, which is where residents can call the Three Rivers Police Department and request permission for one or two nights of street-parking for special circumstances, such as having company visiting temporarily from out of town. “Maybe it’s not widely known, but I think we just expand that idea to the city manager’s discretion,” he said. “When you look at the pros of the 3:00 to 5:30 all year long, to me it outweighs the negatives hands-down. Let’s let him (Bippus) use the discretion that’s already written into the ordinance on a case-by-case basis.”

Next, City Attorney TJ Reed clarified the difference between the two different ordinances being discussed. “You have the parking ordinance, which allows the city manager and the chief of police, with the approval of the city manager, to modify or to create parking limit spaces, and restrictions on any street or parking lot. The second part of that, though, is the zoning ordinance that does not allow front yard parking. If that gets changed, it alleviates the need to modify any of the parking ordinances because then they have a spot to park.”

Reed said he thought it would be a “wise use” of the planning commissions’ time to address this issue. “I think there’s a lot of parts that need to be consulted before you make a change. Making a change in the ordinance may be as simple as adding some additional discretion. I don’t think it would be terrible to put in there to allow for additional discretion and permit the city manager consultation with city staff and departments. But I think the planning commission should take the first crack at it,” he said.

Lowry received consensus from the commission, and the issue was sent to the planning commission for further review of both the zoning and parking ordinance. 

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.