City staff working to address continued parking woes

Last year, the city’s Parking Advisory Commission recommended removing meter heads for a year from areas that didn’t receive much in meter revenue. They also recommended ceasing enforcement in those areas as part of the year-long test.

The City Commission postponed a decision on those recommendations from July to September, but ultimately voted to approve the actions.

The city removed meter heads on 2nd Avenue South between 2nd and 6th Streets; 1st Avenue North between Park Drive and 2nd Street; 2nd Street North between 1st and 2nd Avenues North; 2nd Avenue North between 2nd and 3rd Streets; 8th Street North between 2nd Avenue North and 1st Avenue South; and 9th Street North between 2nd Avenue North and 1st Avenue South.

Those changes went into effect immediately after the Sept. 6 meeting for a year-long test to monitor the effects of the lack of enforcement.

Since the changes went into effect, Adam Hunt, Business Residential Involving Community officer for Great Falls Police Department, has found a number of problems related to the lack of enforcement, particularly along 2nd Avenue South and 4th Street South, near the Rescue Mission.

The city planning office has had no complaints from the other areas where meters were removed, said Craig Raymond, city planning director.

Without the enforcement, 2nd Avenue South between 3rd and 5th Streets has become something of a dumping ground for junk and abandoned vehicles and a nearby auto body shop is now using the public street parking as storage for vehicles that don’t have license plates, aren’t operable and some on trailers that aren’t attached to anything. All of those are violations of the city code.

Currently, the only thing being enforced in that area is abandoned vehicles and removing those vehicles takes time, Hunt said.

There’s a red wagon-type vehicle parked on 4th Street South, near the intersection with 2nd Avenue South, that’s been there for months, Hunt said.

He said the vehicle belonged to a transient who has since left the city and other people have been using the vehicle for sleeping quarters.

Once a vehicle has been identified as parked in one place for five days on a city street, it’s marked as abandoned with a sticker. The owner then has five days to move the vehicle. If the vehicle remains, the city then sends a certified letter to vehicle’s registered owner, if that information is available. The owner then has 10 days to respond before the city can tow or otherwise remove an abandoned vehicle.

In the 10 months since meters were removed and enforcement ceased in the area, Hunt said the block has become crowded with junk and abandoned vehicles and in many cases, people are living out of the cars, which is also illegal under city code.

Last month, Hunt asked the PAC last month to restore parking enforcement to the area so it “wouldn’t be a dumping ground for cars.”

The PAC was scheduled to meet June 15, but failed to reach the required quorum so the meeting was cancelled. It’s the fifth time in the last year the PAC has cancelled its monthly meeting for lack of a quorum.

Raymond said some of the issues would remain even with restored parking enforcement in that area, such as abandoned vehicles and people sleeping in cars, and it will take a cooperative effort from his office and the police, as well as citizens or businesses alerting the city to the problem areas, since most city code enforcement actions are complaint driven.

While Hunt was standing on the corner of 2nd Avenue South and 4th Street South, a man illegally parked his on 4th and walked away.

“Until they start enforcing it again, it’s going to continue to be a problem and it’s probably going to get worse,” Hunt said.

Raymond said he’s planning to bring Hunt’s concerns directly to the City Commission in late July or early August. Since the PAC hasn’t been able to meet for lack of a quorum, Raymond said he’ll also take his recommendations directly to the commission at the same time.

He’s planning to recommend that the city re-install the meters along 2nd Avenue South, likely between 2nd and 4th or 5th Streets. Since he’s had no complaints from the other areas where meters were removed, he said he’ll recommend permanently removing them.

The city has received some complaints about the cars parked near the auto body shop and city staff is working to resolve the problem with the building owner and the shop owner, who are not one in the same.

The other recommendations adopted by the commission last summer included eliminating Saturday parking enforcement, which Raymond is recommending to make that a permanent change. He said he hasn’t had complaints from downtown business owners about employees taking up all the spaces, leaving few for shoppers. Raymond said that’s likely because the major downtown employers are banks and other professional offices that are closed on weekends.

20170615_154430The residential parking program for the northern part of downtown was also eliminated as a test and Raymond said the city has received no complaints from that area so he’s also planning to recommend that they eliminate the program permanently, or at least until there’s a need for it to resume.

Despite the lack of a quorum for the PAC meeting, city staff still had a productive Thursday afternoon for parking issues.

The city hired L’Heureux Page Werner to do preliminary designs and cost estimates for securing the city’s two public parking garages. That includes better lighting, surveillance, pigeon control and deferred maintenance. One of the LPW architects talked to someone involved with a similar project in Billings and their equipment vendors were still in the area, so they walked through the garages with city staff and an executive from SP+, the city’s parking contractor, to get ideas on options and costs.

The SP+ executive had flown to Great Falls for the PAC meeting, which was canceled for lack of quorum.

SP+ has also proposed to develop a strategic framework and financial plan for the city’s parking program to outline the program’s purpose, key metrics and near, mid and long term goals. Those are similar to the items Mayor Bob Kelly tasked the PAC with nearly two years ago, but due to lack of quorums at the PAC meetings and limited staff devoted to the program, they haven’t made significant progress. SP’s proposal would also look at resource gaps, needs and financial projection models. The proposed fee is not to exceed $20,000.

Raymond said he’ll be presenting the SP+ proposal to the City Commission during the July 5 meeting for their consideration.