Vassar issues talk, not tickets, after parking debate

Cars park in front of downtown Vassar businesses on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (Photo by John Cook)
Cars park in front of downtown Vassar businesses on Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. (Photo by John Cook)

Rather than crack down on any business owners and apartment tenants parking in front of stores in downtown Vassar, city leaders have talked with them about the situation.

“The staff and I don’t see it as a problem — it’s not a big enough problem that we had to change any current standing orders or direction for programs,” said Vassar City Manager Brian Chapman, who studied the situation after Councilman Dan Atkins suggested in November that the city stop business owners and employees, and tenants living above those stores, from occupying prime parking spaces for customers.

The city places a two-hour limit on parking in the downtown area between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., Chapman said. But seven new businesses have opened this year in a one-block stretch of Vassar along East Huron Avenue (M-15) between Main Street and Cass Avenue. “Do you really hammer down and enforce those two-hour parking limits, but you have businesses downtown that may have activities or services (causing) patrons or customers to exceed that two-hour parking limit?” Chapman said.

Chapman posed the example of a person who goes to lunch in Vassar and then sees an afternoon movie, requiring that person to park in downtown Vassar for more than two hours.

Atkins said at the Nov. 7 city council meeting that prime parking spots in downtown Vassar should be for customers rather than business owners or employees, or tenants.

Chapman said on Friday that after Atkins raised the concern, “we did talk to business owners to get a better handle on if it’s an issue or not, and the businesses that we talked to had indicated that it wasn’t an issue.”

One business owner “indicated that two hours actually may not be enough time (for customers) considering the type of customers they have and then how the downtown has developed to entertain longer stays in the downtown area,” Chapman said.

The Advertiser called Atkins for comment, and he said he understands some Vassar visitors may stay parked in one spot longer than two hours.

“But parking should be for customers and not for store owners,” Atkins said. “I’m very disappointed that we’re not putting the customer first and that we’re allowing this to happen.

“Customer parking should always be number one — not parking for (a business owner). I don’t get it. I really don’t.”

Atkins said one business owner regularly violates city parking rules and occupies a prime parking spot all day.

“For (a business owner) to park in front of a business in the same spot from 7:30 in the morning until 8 o’clock at night, that’s wrong,” Atkins said. “You have your tenants that are upstairs that park there occasionally, too, and the car sits there and sits there, and that’s taking up a business parking spot, too.”

Customers — or business owners or apartment tenants — may park for free in parking lots behind businesses along either side of Huron Avenue.

Atkins has suggested allowing parking in prime spots on downtown streets only for customers and business delivery vehicles, but Chapman said it could be a problem to enforce such a rule.

“Signs and rules like that start getting into a question of practicality when it comes to enforcement,” Chapman said. “Your bigger communities, such as Detroit and Grand Rapids, typically have signs and rules that may include that kind of language, but they also have full-time downtown parking attendants.”

Such a rule could place an undue burden on what Chapman called a “limited” city staff to enforce parking regulations.

Vassar police officers sometimes issue written notices warning vehicle owners they are violating rules about parking, Chapman said.

“That nudges their behavior to be compliant with whatever the issue is,” Chapman said.

Atkins said direct communication with business owners might prove effective, if the city doesn’t change how it enforces parking rules and doesn’t change those rules.

“You can leave things the way they are,” Atkins said, “but just go ask your business owners and say ‘Hey, can’t we all work together here? If you want your business to make it here, you have to have customers. Why can’t you park across the street or (farther from a business)?’”

Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at gilchrist@tcadvertiser.com

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