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When it comes to City’s parking ordinances, Finch learns that enforcement is the challenge

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    As she gets up to speed on the City of Crookston’s overall operation, City Administrator Amy Finch last week asked for a run-through on the City’s various parking regulations, whether they’re downtown or in residential areas, and what she learned is a familiar refrain when it comes to various City codes and/or ordinances on the books: Most of the questions and concerns involve the enforcement of the codes and ordinances.

    Here’s a rundown of what Finch learned, mostly from Crookston Police Chief Paul Biermaier, with an assist from Public Works Director Pat Kelly:

    • The City has a residential parking ordinance relating to vehicles parked on the street. Vehicles must be moved every 24 hours, Biermaier explained, even if that movement involves someone driving the vehicle around the block and returning to the same spot and parking it for another 24 hours. (Biermaier and Kelly during the discussion seemed to read this particular language in the ordinance differently, but they agreed that moving a vehicle a couple of feet did not meet the ordinance’s definition of moving a vehicle.)

    It’s easier in the winter to tell when vehicles haven’t been moved recently, Biermaier said, because of snow buildup; therefore, the ordinance is easier to enforce. In the summer, chalk would typically be used to mark a vehicle’s parking spot on the curb, and a photo would be taken.

    Biermaier said, like many other City ordinances involving private property, it’s complaint-driven. People can call city hall anonymously to register a complaint about a vehicle parked on the street that hasn’t been moved, and the CPD will follow up.

    Education and warnings typically precede any enforcement, Biermaier said. Typically, a warning ticket will be placed on the vehicle and the CPD will attempt to make contact with its owner, “To make them aware of the warning and that we’ll be back within 24 hours to see if it’s been moved,” he explained. “If not, we can do a ticket and tow.”

    Biermaier said the CPD is aware that special circumstances arise from time to time, like a vehicle is not operational and maybe the owner is waiting for parts or to get it to a mechanic.

    “We’ll work with them; it’s not all hard and fast,” the chief said.

    Overall, he acknowledged that a better job could be done on enforcing the residential 24-hour, on-street parking ordinance.

    Ward 6 Council Member Dylane Klatt noted that he thought an ordinance putting vehicles in violation after only 24 hours was unduly strict. “Is there a history of problems?” he wondered in trying to determine why the ordinance requires moving a vehicle in 24 hours.

    Biermaier, saying it was a “good question,” noted that he’s been with the CPD for 30 years and “That’s the way it’s been done.”

    Ward 3 Council Member Clayton Briggs, a retired CPD officer, said the problem has always been vehicles remaining parked along residential streets for “days on end” or even significantly longer, and ending up with flat tires and looking unsightly or in general disrepair.

    “I get you; a month or something (would seem to warrant a violation), but 24 hours seems strict,” Klatt said. “Am I the only person here who thinks that’s a little strict?”

    Kelly’s been in his role for decades, too, and says the ordinance language pre-dates his arrival as well. He said he didn’t think 24 hours is an “atypical” number in residential parking ordinances in other communities put in place “in order to get movement of vehicles.”

    “Homes and apartments are required to have off-street parking; you’re supposed to be able to park your car off-street,” Kelly continued. “Historically, we field complaints all year long…’This guy’s been parking in front of my house for two weeks and I’m tired of it.’” Kelly said it’s typically a larger issue in Crookston’s older neighborhoods, where more homes have only a single-car garage, as opposed to the larger driveways and multiple-vehicle garages in the newer neighborhoods.

    Even if street sweepers or snowplows aren’t often or are even rarely out during overnight hours, Kelly said the ordinance needs to have a hard and fast number.

    “You have to pick some kind of number, and 24 hours is easier to enforce,” he said. “If you start saying you’re going to give 48 hours or 72, you might as well say we’re not going to enforce this. With 24 hours, the police have a better idea of what’s out there, and (Public Works heavy equipment operators) can also keep an eye on things if a vehicle has been out there for days and people are abusing the system.”

    It’s not just cars, either; the ordinance covers things like campers, boats and construction trailers. At Large Council Member Tom Vedbraaten and Mayor Dale Stainbrook each noted that they’ve seen campers and boats parked on the street for months on end. In response to those comments, Ward 4 Council Member Don Cavalier said in the Woods Addition, which he represents, he’s witnessed vehicles being moved within a couple hours of the CPD being contacted.

    “No one wants to be a squealer, but (trailers parked on narrow streets) will cause an accident,” Cavalier added.

    The 24-hour residential parking ordinance replaced the residential calendar parking ordinance, which involved even and odd-numbered days and even and odd-numbered streets and was in effect from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. Add it all up, and it confused a lot of people.

    Kelly said Public Works is “managing” in the current situation with the help of the CPD “if vehicles are there too long, especially narrow roads with vehicles on both sides.”

    If Crookston is walloped with a ton of snow, like in 1996-97, Kelly said a lot of vehicles are going to to need to be moved, more than they are currently.

    “It hasn’t been a huge problem, but if we really start enforcing it, there’s going to be a lot of unhappy people,” he added.

    • Public awareness of the downtown calendar parking ordinance has been enhanced in recent years, Biermaier said, by City Public Works adding signage detailing the ordinance to the majority of the black concrete posts along downtown curbsides.

    “There are no excuses for someone in the downtown area to say, ‘I didn’t know,’” he said.

    But, again, Biermaier noted, there is room for improvement when it comes to enforcement.

    The downtown calendar parking ordinance is mostly so City crews can more easily remove snow, he said, but it’s also for easier street sweeper access during the warmer months.

    The CPD’s process of following up with violators is similar to the residential parking ordinance; there is typically a warning first, attempted contact with the vehicle’s owner, and a subsequent ticket-and-tow if the violation persists.

    • There’s a parking ordinance downtown during business hours as well, to prevent people from parking their vehicles in front of various businesses and leaving them there all day. Complaints, again, drive follow-up and enforcement, Biermaier said, because, with only two patrol officers on duty during the day, downtown parking enforcement cannot be a top priority.

    For several years, the CPD employed a part-time UMN Crookston student as an intern to focus largely on downtown parking. The student was fully vetted and became a member of the Crookston Police Reserve. Biermaier said it worked “so-so,” mostly because sometimes generating enough student interest was a challenge, and when an internship ended the whole process had to start over with finding someone new.