Chesterfield Hills Parking Issue Unresolved

Thursday, March 2, 2017, 8:01 am
Jessy Gregg

The bulk of the discussion at Tuesday night’s East Lansing City Council Meeting was concerned with the mixed opinions about the parking situation in the Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood. After hearing from numerous residents about the matter during a public hearing, Council ultimately decided to send it back to East Lansing’s Transportation Commission for more guidance.

This issue came up at Council over a year ago, in January 2016, when it was the subject of lengthy and heated debate. After that meeting, in May 2016 Council revised the requirements for residents seeking changes to on-street permit-parking regulations, hoping to streamline the process.

Following those procedural changes, two petitions were filed using the updated requirements from Ordinance 1370. One of the petitions, signed by residents of the 100 and 200 blocks of Chesterfield Parkway, was a request to terminate the residential permit-parking restriction that is currently enforced on the street.

The other petition, signed by residents from the 1000 block of Cresenwood Road, was a request to alter the current residential parking regulations there. That petition characterized the current permit-only parking rule as “overly restrictive” and recommended replacing it with residential permits being required only for cars parked longer than two hours. That petition also asked that the permits be free and that each household be issued five permits.

One of the complaints that has been repeatedly raised during public comment among those who want less permit-parking in the neighborhood is that guests and people with business in the neighborhood, such as babysitters, are hampered by residential permit requirements.

Tuesday night, there was public comment on both sides of the issue.

Carol Prahinski, a resident of Cowley Avenue in Chesterfield Hills, remarked that the current regulations excluded the streets on Highland and Cowley and that she would like to see them added to the permit-only area. “The parking in our neighborhoods is atrocious and not just associated with MSU Football,” she told Council.

Heather Marlow, who resides on Cresenwood Road, expressed her opposition to changing the current Residential Parking Permit (RPP) requirements: “My concern is that if you change the parking permits on Cresenwood [Road] and Chesterfield Parkway, which are affected by this, you’ll create parking islands where our two streets will be full of people parking in front of our homes, creating an undue burden on our streets alone.”

Marlow went on to explain that she expects residential building projects in the Frandor area to create more parking problems in the neighborhood, citing the redevelopment project at the Brody complex, which predates the residential permit program, as an example of a development project that impacted the parking situation on their streets. She ended by saying, “I think this needs to be a neighborhood-wide parking policy, not just street by street…so that all of the residents in the neighborhood bear the same burden and responsibility,” and mentioned that both-side parking creates problems for emergency vehicle access.

Ken Schwartz of Chesterfield Parkway spoke in opposition to the RPPs, saying that he has lived in the neighborhood for 36 years and never had a problem before RPP requirements went into effect. “It would be very nice to park in front of my house, and have my guests come to my house and to park without a permit,” Schwartz told Council.

Although he disagreed with the Marlow on the specifics, he did agree that a neighborhood-wide policy would be preferable, and that parking on both sides of the street made emergency vehicle access difficult. He suggested a two-hour time limit on one side of the street as a possible solution.

Peter Foster-Fishman, whose psychology practice operates out of his home on Chesterfield Parkway, circulated the petition to allow two-hour permit-less parking on that street and to increase the number of guest passes from two to five per household. He pointed out to Council that, when he circulated the petition, seventy percent of the people on the street were in favor of terminating the permit-only parking program.

Foster-Fishman echoed the sentiments of a previous speaker in saying that the regulations made it difficult to entertain guests and added that it was necessary for him to obtain temporary passes for his clients. “There’s still tons of parking on that street,” he told Council. “Having a two-hour window would allow me not to have to bother with that, or my clients to be as hassled.”

Councilmember Erik Altman asked Foster-Fishman to suggest ways in which the temporary parking permit system could be made less difficult for homeowners. Foster-Fishman remarked that as a member of the community, he thought he should be trusted with more passes: “The office that you end up having to deal with at City Hall has a general sense that people are giving these passes out on game days or selling them or something.”

Foster-Fishman also suggested the permits be free, replaced without question, and have no expiration date. Before leaving the podium Foster-Fishman said that he thought a blanket policy for the neighborhood would not be effective because different streets had different situations.

Richard Best from Kensington Road spoke out to say that he “took issue with the some of the statements that parking has never been a problem.” He said that before the RPP permit took effect, streets around his home were packed with cars when he walked his dog in the neighborhood at night. He read a statement that had been circulated by another neighborhood resident enumerating specific traffic and congestion problems in the neighborhood that the letter said were improved by the implementation of the RPP program.

Andrea Shea, who identified herself as living on the perimeter of the effected neighborhood, spoke in favor of the RPP program, saying that the situation on the perimeter is different from that on the interior of the neighborhood. “We have worked very hard for many years to fine tune parking so that the sorority [nearby] can park and we can live,” Shea told Council.

After the close of the public hearing the Council heard from Steve Roach, Department of Public Works staff to the Transportation Commission. He said that the majority of Transportation Commission had voted in favor of the RPP. He acknowledged receipt of the petitions but said that they wanted to avoid “nitpicking portions of the neighborhood.”

Roach said that the Commission agrees that a neighborhood-wide plan would be ideal. He said that he felt the petitions had followed the appropriate measures and that it was appropriate to forward the issue on to Council for a public hearing, as had been done.

But Councilmember Altman read aloud from the portion of the procedural ordinance, which states: “The transportation commission shall make a determination whether current parking plan restrictions no longer are justified for a significant portion of the residents and that a plan change or area change will not adversely affect other residents or the intent and purpose of the permit parking area.”

Altmann asked Roach if the Transportation Commission had made such a determination. There was then much discussion between the Council and Roach about whether the Commission’s submission of the petitions to Council was evidence of such a determination.

There then followed a lengthy back-and-forth debating the specific boundaries of the petitions, the possibility of confusion regarding an area with two-hour parking except for permit-parkers, and whether enough evidence had been provided that changing the current regulations wouldn’t adversely affect other residents.

Ultimately the Council decided that they needed more specific recommendations from the Transportation Commission before it could effectively rule on the issue of RPPs in the Chesterfield Hills area. Each of the Councilmembers spoke regarding the difficulties inherent in trying to create neighborhood parking guidelines that will be satisfactory for all of the residents.

Councilmember Altman said he was trying to balance the opposing viewpoints: “I’m looking at this from an equitable standpoint. I’m trying to balance in my mind, what are the hardships of these RRPs and what are the interests of the people who want to maintain the RPPs?”

Councilmember Drahiem, the only Councilmember who lives in the affected neighborhood, also addressed the conflict between neighbors, saying that while Council had hoped the procedural ordinance changes would help, “This is the first time through for a removal [of permit-parking] process, and each of these times we’re going to have something.”

Draheim said she had been monitoring social media and could see “a lot of really valid reasons for why neighborhood-wide things don’t often work.” She added, “I think that our parking system in this city is screwy. I think it’s confusing, I think it puts a hardship on the people who live here, I think it puts a hardship on our PACE [Parking and Code Enforcement]. It is clear to me in my own neighborhood that people have very, very divergent views on this.”

She added that she’s aware of models in other cities that combine timed parking with permit parking, and agreed that having cars parked on both sides of the street leads to problems. “It is a very vexing issue.”

East Lansing Police Chief Jeff Murphy assured Council that, whatever it decides to do, PACE officers will figure out what the rules are and will write tickets accordingly. He said the department always allows a probationary period for an area with new parking rules during which people may receive warnings but are not given tickets. That gives people time to become accustomed to the new rules, he said.