Aug. 23 2018 09:51 AM

Lansing City Council set to review overnight ban


The streets of Lansing are often lined with overnight parking outlaws.

Many older homes weren’t built to accommodate residents with multiple vehicles.

Landlords who splice properties into apartments aren’t creating space for tenants. The city also rarely enforces its 2-5 a.m. ban on streetside parking, pushing some to voice concerns while many more risk tickets for curbside convenience.

“It’s just not enforced and it makes me nuts,” said Monica Zuchowski, longtime resident and former president of Lansing’s Downtown Neighborhood Association. “Why have a ban at all if you’re not going to enforce it?” In September, the City Council will again review an ordinance that prohibits overnight parking on city streets. Differing neighborhood opinions, however, have made it clear that a one-size-fits-all solution might not be possible. Council President Carol Wood , who also chairs the Public Safety Committee, already knows she can’t possibly satisfy everyone.

Some residents, like those in the Walnut Neighborhood, are tired of neighbors illegally crowding the streets in front of their homes. Roadways in those blocks can be narrow, and some contended rows of cars can pose an added obstacle for emergency vehicles and snow plows. They’ve adopted sense of ownership over those spaces.

“They’re supposed to be writing tickets, but it doesn’t seem like any of them are being written,” added Hazel Bethea, president of the nearby Genesee Neighborhood Association. “There’s no sense in putting these rules on the books if people can just constantly get away with it.”

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor acknowledged enforcement has been lax. Sixty-five police officers last year issued nearly 3,200 tickets for overnight parking violations. This year? Only 37 officers have issued 743. Higher priority complaints often divert attention away from stray cars parked in front of local neighborhood homes, he said.

“We don’t have the resources to have a police officer dedicated specifically for overnight parking,” Schor added.

But some want to see rules changed to better accommodate a growing population. Cars could be hauled to the nearest city lot that allows for an extended stay, but it’s inconvenient, costly and often not worth the trouble.

Tickets are so infrequent that drivers often take the risk, said Walnut Neighborhood President Dale Schrader.

Other residents on Schrader’s block — and on other downtown streets — could use the space. Suggestions to eliminate the ban have been explored in recent months but backlash from prideful homeowners has been swift. Progress has been slow as city officials continue to explore options amid divisions from local neighborhoods.

Wood said she and her colleagues gathered feedback this summer from various meetings hosted around the city. Residents can expect to see the discussion resurface sometime in September, but it remains largely unclear what changes would actually remedy residents’ concerns and best utilize existing parking spaces in the city.

The ban could be left untouched or eliminated, allowing residents to park overnight as long as they move by the morning. The city could also enact a permitting process, charging an annual fee to those who need the extra space. Wood said all options are on the table. But most just want the law — in whatever shape — to be enforced.

Andy Kilpatrick, director of the city’s Public Services Department, said officials in 2005 eliminated the overnight ban on Horton Street at the request of neighborhood residents. And it’s been so successful that they’ve allowed it to continue. Just two blocks running north from East Michigan Avenue till it dead ends, Horton is the only street in the city where its residents needn’t worry about tickets.

“It’s difficult to say if that would work well on other neighborhood streets,” Kilpatrick added.

Lansing edged past Hicksville, New York, in April for the title of the worst “parking crater” in the nation, according to Streets Blog.

The local landscape — consumed by massive swathes of street-level parking — is a model of inefficiency and wastes the city’s development potential, according to the nonprofit news organization.

Councilman Peter Spadafore recently proposed the creation of a “residential parking zone” that would allow for paid, permitted parking on certain city streets. The pilot program is geared toward developers and primarily designed to accommodate a proposed apartment complex at the former Lake Trust Credit Union headquarters.

The developer, Urban Systems, plans to transform the building into housing, office and retail space, but Spadafore said it’d first require millions of dollars to build a parking ramp. It was a cost developers couldn’t stand to bear, especially while the downtown area is already lined with streetside parking that could meet their needs.

“We want to take the spots we already have and use them for overnight, residential parking,” Spadafore added, noting an expanded pilot could also clear the way for additional development plans take take shape downtown.

The idea hasn’t yet left the committee, but officials agreed proper policing will be key to its success. If resources can’t be funneled into enforcement, the whole ordinance ought to be repealed entirely, Spadafore suggested.

Wood said officials for years have explored various options to alleviate overarching concerns, and the frontrunning concept is some sort of permit system for those who can demonstrate the need. Some suggested rotating between different sides of the block, although that might force snow plows to hit the same streets twice.

“We’ve got to come up to a middle ground on this issue, and we will,” Wood said.

Visit lansingcitypulse.com for more coverage as City Council continues to discuss options for overnight parking.