Officials are considering how to best address the problem of people abusing parking rules downtown.
The problem has been a sore spot for the mayor and the downtown merchants association.
The city has several lots for off-street parking, with lot number 1 near N. Ann Arbor and the main lot for customers of downtown businesses. Parking is limited to three hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The problem is that some people are abusing the policy and taking valuable spots from other customers.
The culprits could be shoppers, but are most likely merchants, employees and apartment dwellers, city officials say. But with a chance that the offender may be someone from outside of the area, no one wants scofflaws ticketed for fear of damaging the image of the community.
New Police Chief Larry Hrinik conducted a study of the downtown parking situation and proposed several remedies. He did not find a dearth of open spaces, but noted some vehicles were parked for long stretches of time. Surveys were conducted on first and second shifts.
The chief is leery of ticketing anyone because the offender could be a customer who may have stayed in town shopping or grabbing a bite to eat, Hrinik said. Ticketing those people could lead to the city’s image becoming tarnished.
But even having an officer on hand to do the ticketing is not feasible as the city doesn’t have the budget for a part-time person to write tickets, nor an impulse to do so.
Education seems the better option, officials said.
Hrinik wants to get the word out to merchants and workers about the long-term parking lots around the city designed for them to free up parking spots for customers.
Parking concerns are not just about current shoppers but those in the future as well. The city’s Planning Commission has been discussing a form-based code overlay of the business district and the issue of parking came up at a joint meeting of the planning commission and the city council.
Discussions for that are whether zoning regulations requiring parking spaces for new businesses are worthwhile with plenty of parking available in city lots a block away.
Some downtown merchants suggest the problem lies with apartment dwellers that leave their cars in the lots long after 8 a.m. City officials say there’s some truth to that, but thought education and other avenues of communication would be helpful.
The two mayoral candidates are coming at the issue with different takes.
Brian Marl, who sits on Council, prefers the status quo. He said police officers don't have time to check for parking violators, when there are more important places for them to be.
Glenn Law said he doesn’t want to penalize people for doing business downtown, but says ordinances on the books should be enforced.
The issue is very important to current Mayor Gretchen Driskell. She has heard complaints from business owners about the lack of parking spaces downtown. Those complaints point toward other business owners and/or employees who are taking the prime spots in lieu of the long-term options nearby. She supports the chief’s desire to education as a way to address it.