Feb 212013



By Wesley Brown

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Student commuters who often rely on the Tar River university neighborhood for parking may be forced to find another place to leave their cars during class if a new proposal is approved by the city.

While the details remain unsettled, the focus of the plan, which could go into effect as early as the fall semester, is to reserve all parking in the 200-acre housing community north of East Carolina University exclusively for residents.

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The University Neighborhood Revitalization Workgroup agreed this week at its monthly meeting that the restriction could help lessen trash and vehicles from eroding the appeal and safety of the historic college district.

The only question the committee had difficulty answering was how the city should enforce the standard, debating for more than an hour whether to require residents to purchase a parking permit or to keep licensing voluntary, as ordinances now allow.

“I am ready to do something,” committee member Chris Woelkers, owner of the Fifth Street Manor, said. “We have to get the students’ vehicles off the grass.”

Woelkers recommended the group move forward with an initiative that would extend the city’s controlled-parking plan to all roads between Elm, Fifth and Reade streets to the Tar River.

Other members felt the suggestion was rushed and wanted feedback from staff and the public on how to “perfect” a plan that now regulates residential parking by petition, granting three $5 permits per household upon majority consent of the homeowners on a neighborhood block.

“I just do not want anything rammed down my throat again,” said longtime resident Jim Sullivan of the University Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, legislation approved by the City Council in October.

The ordinance, which, among other things, allows four unrelated people to live together in four-bedroom homes in the Tar River neighborhood, is being contested in court as a violation of the state and U.S. constitutions.

Sullivan called for increased parking fines and more elaborate enforcement laws that ticket not only the car owner but a home’s tenant and landlord when a citation is issued on a property.

“They can afford it; just look at what they are driving,” Sullivan said of students. “They spend as much on beer on a Friday night as they do on a parking ticket now.”

Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden said his department is comparing local fines — $20 for on-street violations and $25 for front- or rear-yard parking — against other cities to see if fees are at the right level.

The chief said the review is part of a new operational plan for code enforcement that includes revising staff hours for weekend shifts and rearranging districts for the Tar River university neighborhood and parts of west Greenville — areas of high call volume — to each get two full-time officers.

“It’s a huge mountain of work, and we are trying to prioritize a systemic approach to attack the problem and knock it down to a reasonable level,” Aden said.

Last Saturday, code officers reportedly towed 12 vehicles, issued 24 parking citations and left door-hangers at homes to educate people on the city’s ordinances. Aden said a second parking officer — a position which has been vacant for some time — has been hired and is in training.

Workgroup member Michael Saad, owner of two apartment complexes in the area, recommended the city hire a third parking officer and net less revenue to help teach violators “a lesson.”

“I hate to hear the penalties are not working,” said Saad, who wanted a “fair” procedure that accounted for residents’ guests. “I would change my habits quick if I had to pay $25.”

Aden was reluctant to talk revenue over compliance, saying he feared a districtwide parking plan would be “like squeezing a balloon,” creating problems elsewhere, with student commuters taking over other lots.

Committee member Philip Rogers, chief of staff to ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, said the school consistently communicates with its students that it has sufficient commuter parking near Minges Coliseum and the Belk and Willis buildings, with bus stops nearby.

At the group’s next meeting on March 19, city traffic engineers plan to present suggestions to implement the idea with the hope the committee can bring an initiative to council by the summer to put changes into effect before the next school year.

“We have to get the property owners to help clean up the mess,” Sullivan said, “or else we will be dealing with the same problems over and over again.”

Contact Wesley Brown at 252-329-9579 or wbrown@reflector.com. Follow him on Twitter @CityWatchdog.

via The Daily Reflector.


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