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Borough Council Approves Overnight Parking Permit Pilot Project for Highlands Neighborhood

by on April 17, 2018 12:40 AM

For decades, State College has waived enforcement of an overnight parking restriction on borough streets during Penn State home football weekends and other special events that bring an influx of visitors and vehicles to the area.

In one borough neighborhood, that will soon be changing.

Borough council voted 5-2 on Monday to approve a pilot program in the Highlands to create a system that will require residents to get a temporary permit for their guests to park on streets that otherwise restrict parking between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Council President Evan Myers and Councilman Dan Murphy voted against the proposal.

The measure also will keep in place the current practice of not enforcing the restriction during event weekends on streets in other neighborhoods and eliminates waivers on lawn parking restrictions. The borough has typically waived enforcement during the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, the Blue-White Game, Penn State spring graduation, First Night and Penn State move-in weekend. Council will next vote on an ordinance.

Under the pilot program, each address in the Highlands can pay an annual $24 registration fee and be able to get 24 non-event overnight parking passes for the year through an online system that will use license plate recognition for permitting. They can get 36 more at a cost of $5 each. On home football weekends and during Arts Festival, however, they will be required to pay $10 for an overnight permit.

The permits would be available for a 24-hour period and could not be used during "blackout periods," such as snow emergencies or road closures, which residents would be notified about by email.

Because the allotment would be per address, each residence -- whether a single-family home, apartment with a few tenants, or fraternity house with dozens of residents -- would receive the same number of available permits for the year. 

The 18-month pilot will begin in September, when warnings will be issued for violations, with enforcement starting in October.

A year after the Highlands Civic Association made a request for the borough to enforce the restriction during football weekends in the neighborhood, council landed on the pilot program, but did consider implementing it borough-wide.

"We’ve been asked to provide relief for one neighborhood and then spread it borough-wide, despite significant opposition," Myers said.

Highlands residents said that as parking during special weekends on neighborhood streets increased it impacted safety and quality of life, lining the roads with visitors' cars and increasing risk for pedestrians and other drivers.

The borough studied parking on streets with 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. restrictions during the fall of 2017 and found more than half of the vehicles parked on those roads did so only during times when parking was otherwise permitted. In the neighborhood with the highest demand, 58 percent of parking spaces were unoccupied overnight. 

Crash data also showed little difference between event and non-event weekends. 

"I’m not sure what the safety issue is of cars parked on the street between 2 and 6 a.m.," Myers said. "I’ve also heard quality of life. I’m not sure what that means. Some would say preventing friends or relatives from parking near their homes negatively impacts their quality of life. That’s all in the eye of the beholder."

During the process, staff discovered that nothing in the borough ordinances gave the authority to waive the parking restriction. Staff ultimately recommended that council simply codify the current practice in the ordinance, and noted that the current public garage capacity isn't sufficient to take on all of the street parking.

Transportation Commission, meanwhile, recommended that the overnight restriction be enforced without exception.

After discussion at its April 2 meeting and April 9 work session, council, with Myers and Murphy dissenting, directed staff to come up with the proposal for a pilot permit program.

Councilman David Brown said on Monday that the measure wasn't aimed at family and friends of people who live in the neighborhoods -- they would have opportunities to get overnight permits -- but at football fans who don't want to pay what the university charges for parking lots and garages.

"Well, I think they should get over it and we should make them realize there is a cost," Brown said.

A long line of students and young professionals spoke against the proposal during Monday night's meeting. Several cited the prospect of requiring people who may have been out drinking to then move their cars at 2 a.m.

"There is a notion that cars parked on the street are a safety issue but I would challenge everyone here to find an instance where someone was injured by a parked car," said University Park Undergraduate Association President Cody Heaton.

Highlands Civic Association member David Stone applauded students for voicing their opinions and said he believes the groups can work together to iron out differences. He noted, however, that as the borough's review found, there was little difference in crash numbers between event weekends, when overnight parking was allowed, and non-event weekends, when cars had to be moved.

Many who spoke in opposition also said the change was unwelcoming to visitors, anti-student and that the majority of council weren't listening to the many constituents who spoke out against it. A change.org petition created on Sunday, "Save Overnight Parking in State College during Football Weekends," had more than 1,800 signatures by Monday night.

Association member Eric White said he has long worked with students and didn't consider himself or the proposal to be anti-student. Brown said the student-vs.-permanent-resident rhetoric was "divisive" and Councilwoman Theresa Lafer called it "hostile."

White also said that he agreed with limiting the plan to the Highlands because only the Highlands had asked for it. The proposal was brought to the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations but no others advocated for it.

Councilwoman Cathy Dauler said she wanted the pilot to be borough-wide, adding that while the Highlands sees the highest concentration of street parking, others experience it too.

"I think it’s unfortunate the Coalition of Neighborhood Associations opted not to support what the Highlands neighborhood has been asking," Dauler said. "That certainly has been a departure from past practice."

Some residents of other neighborhoods have spoken at past meetings and said the waiver of the overnight restriction is beneficial to them and their guests and doesn't create problems.

Councilwoman Janet Engeman said on Monday that Holmes-Foster already sees a large volume of street parking on event weekends and that's likely to increase with the overnight restriction just across South Atherton Street in the Highlands.

What the pilot will cost and generate in revenue isn't yet clear. In the past week, staff put together the borough-wide plan and Rick Ward, parking manager, said it would create an estimated $75,000 to $100,000 in revenue. But the borough also would have to replace signage at about $18 per sign and it wasn't yet known how many signs would be affected. A software vendor, likely Parkmobile, would need to be contracted to develop the digital solution for permitting.

And a new parking clerk position would be needed with flexible hours. A part-time position would cost about $25,000 per year and a full-time position would be $55,000.

“We will have to answer a lot of questions about this project if it's implemented and we’ll need the staff to do that,” Ward said.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for StateCollege.com. Contact him at geoff.rushton@statecollege.com or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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