Council Considers Controversial Chesterfield Hills Parking Issue

Tuesday, January 5, 2016, 5:00 am
By: 
Alice Dreger

Above: map showing in cross-hatch where parking may be restricted to cars with resident-only permits

Tonight, East Lansing’s City Council will consider whether to add parking restrictions in the Chesterfield Hills neighborhood. If approved, the plan would expand the area where only Chesterfield Hills residents with pre-arranged permits may park. (See full map of plan.)

The matter has split homeowners in the area, located just northwest of the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Harrison Road, with some coming to prior Council meetings to argue against the plan, as we have reported.

According to a memo from Steven Roach, Design Engineer for the City, “The primary concerns of residents are related to on-street parking by non-residents due to the limited student and employee parking currently available at the Brody Complex. The addition of the dining facility at the complex is also causing campus traffic to park within the neighborhood causing congestion and sight distance restriction as residents enter/exit their drives.” This, Roach says, raises safety concerns, as does the narrowing of the roadway space available to emergency vehicles like fire trucks. He says that parked cars also create issues for trash pick-up and leaf removal.

A letter from the “Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood Parking Committee” to the City also states that “an uninterrupted of [sic] chain of parked vehicles obstructs views of our own neighborhood” and that “competition for parking with nonresidents all but eliminates the ability of residents to park on the very streets that we pay taxes to maintain; this is fundamentally inequitable and highly inconvenient.”

But a number of homeowners in the area have objected strongly to restricting parking on their streets, saying that it will make it highly inconvenient for them, because visitors to their homes—including contractors and visitors to legal home-based businesses—will not be able to park outside their homes on the street. Many driveways in the area are relatively short, as was the style when the neighborhood was built in the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Attorney Jack Roberts, a homeowner in the affected area for almost 40 years, has been leading the charge against the restricted parking plan. (Read his report to Council.) He has produced his own studies of parked cars in the area, challenging the claim that there are not enough spots.

Roberts also objects to how the process was conducted. He says it has been virtually impossible to find out who decided who would be on the “Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood Parking Committee” that advised the City the plan was necessary. It is unclear from documents provided to the City who was on that Committee and how it was elected or selected. Roberts says it does not seem to have been representative of the neighborhood’s diverse views on the matter, nor, he says, were he and others appropriately invited to discuss the matter with the Committee. He says he and others found out relatively late in the process about this plan.

The City’s stated process for approval of this kind of restricted parking plan requires the City to take a vote of owners of properties fronting the affected streets. That process requires that at least 51% of ballots be returned for the process to move forward. Of those polled by the City in this case, 32 votes came in favor, 16 against, and 20 ballots were not returned. (See tally.) Because 48 of the total 68 possible ballots were returned, the vote had a high enough response to meet the threshold required.

But Roberts told Council at an earlier meeting that had all of those against the plan organized and simply not voted, the plan would have died in process for lack of enough votes. (It would have changed the response rate from 71% to 47%.)

According to critics of the plan, the only time there is not enough parking in the neighborhood is on MSU football home game Saturdays, which occur about six days a year. They say the parking study done by the City, which was done several years ago when the Brody complex was under construction, was unrepresentative of the reality today, now that the Brody complex parking is back open in full.

Roberts and others have questioned whether the process had really been followed according to the rules laid out by the City. But City Attorney Tom Yeadon has advised Council he believes it was followed appropriately, such that Council can now legally decide the matter. Questioned about the situation as it currently stands, Roberts told me he believes the way the City’s process is set up for this kind of parking plan creates unnecessary divisiveness in neighborhoods.

Councilmember Susan Woods, Council’s liaison to the Transportation Commission, has suggested that a compromise solution might be the kind of two-hour parking limit used in other near-university neighborhoods like her own, Bailey.

For a complete list of the documents provided to Council on this issue, see the Council agenda. The meeting tonight starts at 7 p.m. in City Hall. Citizens can speak at City Council meetings during public comments and can write to Council at council@cityofeastlansing.com.