Permit Parking Areas Remain Controversial

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Sunday, May 1, 2016, 4:09 pm
Michael Teager

Above: A permit-only parking area of Chesterfield Hills

Residential Permit Parking (RPP), while used sparingly in East Lansing, remains a source of substantial controversy following January’s 3-2 vote by City Council to expand the area in Chesterfield Hills that requires permits for parking on the street. The RPP area’s expansion in Chesterfield Hills has been a source of heated debate within that neighborhood since last year and at Council over the last several months.

As mentioned in ELi’s most recent Council Capsule, most of this past Tuesday’s meeting was devoted to discussing proposed changes to the City’s residential permit parking program. At issue is how RPP areas should be established, changed, or eliminated.

Following January’s Council decision in favor of the RPP expansion in Chesterfield Hills, the Transportation Commission has been charged with making recommendations to Council with regard to the system. As such, the Commission considered Ordinance No. 1370 (a revision to the existing RPP program) at its February 22 meeting. Steven Roach, Design Engineer and staff liaison to the Transportation Commission, presented the Transportation Commission’s report to Council on Tuesday.

The recommendations for changing how permit parking areas are reviewed and approved included:

  • “fewer eligibility criteria – each fact-based or clearly measurable”;
  • “increasing the petition threshold from 30% [to 50%] of impacted households”;
  • a “clear description in the ordinance of the data to be collected in the City study of existing parking conditions”;
  • consideration of “less-restrictive options…before RPP is pursued”;
  • reducing the number of Transportation Commission public hearings to one and notifying all affected residents of hearing date and location;
  • “consistency in thresholds for establishing and changing/eliminating an RPP program”;
  • “provisions for home business operators to obtain guest passes more conveniently and/or in greater numbers”;
  • and “restrictions on the total number of temporary passes issued per day.”


Questions, criticism, and confusion at last Tuesday’s Council meeting stemmed not only from January’s adoption of the RPP expansion, but also from the fact that Tuesday’s City Council agenda included three different versions of the amended ordinance: a slightly amended ordinance from staff, a responsorial version from the Transportation Commission, and another from Councilmember Shanna Draheim, who had voted against the expanded RPP in January. (Shanna Draheim is Council liaison to the Transportation Commission—taking over from former liaison Susan Woods—and her spouse, Andy Draheim, is the current Chair of that Commission. The Draheims live in Chesterfield Hills.)

A number of the speakers at the hearing asked Council which version of Ordinance 1370 was being discussed, as some confusion persisted throughout the meeting. 

Councilmember Erik Altmann, who voted to adopt the RPP expansion in January, asked Roach if (a version of) the proposed language makes RPP adoption contingent on Transportation Commission approval, and whether there is another board or commission that acts as a gatekeeper for similar matters. City Attorney Tom Yeadon answered that Altmann’s reading was correct—that the proposed language would require the Transportation Commission’s approval on any new RPP plan before it could reach Council for the final decision.

There was then discussion between Altmann and Mayor Mark Meadows on analogous procedures in other boards and commissions. Meadows said that staff may decide if an application is unsatisfactory or incomplete, but that didn’t address a board or commission’s approval. Altmann used the example of the Planning Commission rejecting a proposed site plan but Council accepting it anyway (a scenario currently possible).

Altmann asked approximately how many people currently live under the RPP ordinance, to which Roach replied approximately a thousand or more. Altmann later commented that, given the relatively small number of vocal RPP opponents, most who live under RPP likely accept and are fine with it.

A number of Chesterfield Hills residents spoke during the public hearing, with one other speaking during the earlier public comment period.

One, Moreau Maxwell, worried that the process allowed for too many changes between gathering signatures for petitions, deliberation by the Transportation Commission, and final approval by City Council. He thought that such a process made it too easy for supporters to sign a petition for one item but for Council to ultimately pass another. He also thought that the revisions included “a swipe at the [involvement of] neighborhood associations,” and that the Chesterfield Hills Neighborhood Association “blessed” the action but wasn’t formally involved.

Diane Wing, a supporter of January’s RPP expansion, requested that the ordinance be tabled, with a committee formed to seek input from all sides. She considered Tuesday’s motion to be a rush to make the ordinance different but not better.

Jack Roberts, a leading critic of the RPP expansion who had conducted his own studies and submitted his findings in earlier meetings, pressed for greater public input during the process. A criticism from Roberts and others was that public hearings had been held at the end of the process (and right before a vote) instead of earlier on.

Roberts also suggested that such matters shouldn’t be put to a vote, but rather studies and hearings should be conducted, with an up or down vote then made by City Council. He felt that the same outcome without a vote would’ve been more palatable and less divisive.

Regarding voting, one other concern amongst both residents and Council was that, when the RPP expansion was put to a vote, ballots not returned by residents were counted as “no” votes (instead of only counting ballots that were actually returned).  Altmann called the count method “bizarre.”

Other residents, including Laurie Dunlap, Peter Foster-Fishman, and Mike Christiansen, criticized the neighborhood association’s process and openness and welcomed lessening the association’s importance in the RPP process. Complaints centered on not knowing when the neighborhood association had been meeting. Christiansen claimed, “[The neighborhood association] allows for a small collection of tied-in people to make the extra effort…at the exclusion of other neighbors.”

Neighborhood associations in East Lansing vary by formality and structure. Some, such as in Bailey, are formal and meeting regularly, whereas others are less structured and meet as needed.

Councilmember Altmann, a Bailey resident and supporter of neighborhood associations because they are “closer to the ground” than commissions or Council, understood the concerns and said that this matter would be better handled by a body governed by the Open Meetings Act (which neighborhood associations are not).

An additional suggestion from multiple speakers was the exploration of “less severe” restrictions (e.g., 2-hour parking) before adopting RPP. Altmann replied that parking restrictions aren’t hierarchical, but they each instead solve different problems.

Meadows moved to defer the matter to Council’s May 10 meeting, citing the City’s need to “chew on [all of the new information].” However, he explicitly stated that he didn’t think that the process was rushed, as Council was in its “third or fourth month” and is now only adding a couple weeks to the process. Meadows’s motion to defer was passed unanimously, 4-0. (Councilmember Ruth Beier was absent.)




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