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Public Works votes in favor of parking fees

The New London Board of Public Works voted to recommend a parking ordinance to city council. File Photo

New London considers 3-6 a.m. restrictions

By Robert Cloud

The Board of Public Works voted to recommend a parking lot ordinance for approval by New London Common Council.

The proposed ordinance will ban parking in all city-owned lots from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. and require residents to purchase parking permits for $120 per year or $10 per month.

“Vehicles with valid permits are required to park in the designated stall assigned to their permit,” according to the proposed ordinance.

One permit will be issued per legally registered and licensed vehicle.

Among changes that Public Works made to the ordinance, visitor parking will be allowed with permission from police and the ordinance will apply to all city-owned parking lots, not just downtown.

Ordinance history

The board met March 4 after the council voted to send the proposed ordinance back to committee on Feb. 20.

Public Works Director Robert Garske opened the March 4 meeting with a recap of the city’s efforts to handle ongoing complaints about parking in downtown New London.

He said the Board of Public Works began discussing fees for downtown residents who park full-time downtown at a June 5, 2023 meeting.

After a discussion of what other communities of a similar size are charging for downtown, parking was tabled for a future agenda, Garske said.

He noted that the issue of parking was brought back to the board in September 2023 for several reasons.

One reason involved a downtown property owner who was concerned about his tenants having a place to park.

“Also in the July and August timeframe, I struggled with having parked cars in the area of construction and just knowing what I had to go through in order to locate these residents and try to get their vehicles moved,” Garske said.

At the board’s September meeting, “we had a discussion of having an area for residents to park when there was no available parking option for them,” Garske said. “I was instructed to start looking into possible fees and/or procedures for residential parking.”

Garske noted that after the October meeting, he was still uncertain as to the board’s direction due to “the many different thoughts and ideas and enforcement questions that were brought up.”

New London Police Chief Jeffrey Schlueter attended the December meeting and the board agreed that a 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. parking ban downtown except for those with permits would be the easiest way to enforce any type of parking regulations.

“After that discussion took place, I was instructed by the board to put together a policy and an ordinance for parking,” Garske said. “At last month’s meeting, I presented it. The policy and ordinance passed at the board level, however at the council level, it got sent back to committee.”

At the Feb. 5 board meeting, Ald. Tim Roberts cast the lone vote against the proposal to require permits for downtown parking park in city lots from 3-6 a.m.

On Feb. 20, Common Council members voted 6-3 in favor of a motion by Roberts to put the plan on hold and send it back to committee.

At that meeting, Roberts argued that the parking restrictions would cause hardships for downtown tenants with young children due to the permitted parking being restricted to areas farther from downtown buildings.

He said requiring a permit in downtown lots discriminated against downtown tenants.

He also argued that the restrictions would promote drunken driving.

Garske noted that the plan he proposed addressed these issues.

“The policy in no way changes how residents can drop of groceries and/or pick up a child,” he said. “They have the same parking opportunity as everyone else that parks downtown.”

During the 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. ban, people can still park for up to 30 minutes for pick up or drop off.

Garske reiterated that the parking restrictions allowed city street workers to clear the lots of snow.

The permits also make it easier for city staff to contact the vehicles’ owners if they are in undesignated spots.

He noted that there were vehicles parked in the same spot days after a snowstorm last year even after they were issued parking tickets.

Roberts criticized

Several board members criticized Roberts for not providing them with any information regarding his concerns prior to the Feb. 20 council meeting, especially since he had participated in the meetings leading up to the Feb. 5 and Feb. 20 votes.

Mayor Mark Herter accused Roberts of using “false narratives” in his arguments against the proposed ordinance.

“At the end of the discussion, the city and street department need to take care of the parking lot for daily maintenance and services as needed and those costs come at taxpayer expenses,” Herter said. “Can we all come to an agreement on the key issues previously mentioned and work together to the goal we all want and that is a downtown parking lot that can work for us all and better our downtown district?”

“I asked for this to come back to committee and I was really hoping we’d have some discussions,” Roberts said. “But I guess at this point you’ve all got your minds made up, so I don’t see the point of saying anything at this point.”

“Generally, it doesn’t occur that somebody comes in that’s been part of those discussions for three, four months and reads off a dissertation and nobody else in the room has a chance to respond to that,” said Ald. John Faucher, noting that Roberts could have sent his criticisms to council members prior to the meeting so they would have the opportunity to read them and respond.

Faucher also argued that downtown parking in most cities costs $120 per month rather than $120 per year,

Ald. John Hass also complained that Roberts brought up his concerns at the “last minute.”

“Everybody was involved in all these meetings,” he said. “To come up with a whole bunch of scenarios in the last hour of the day, when it was ready to be passed, that’s hard for us.”

“At the last Public Works meeting, I sat here and I argued until I was blue in the face,” Roberts said. “I looked around the room and everybody, you already had your minds’ made up.”

“Holy cow, am I being attacked here,” Roberts added.

“You kind of attacked the whole council when you said they were promoting drunk driving,” Herter said, noting that Roberts also said the parking restrictions would affect local fishermen and the boat launch. “It does not because they do pay to use the boat launch and park there.”

“We need to focus on the issue at hand, but I want to talk about a procedural issue,” Ald. BaLynda Croy said.

She argued Roberts would have violated the open meetings law by sending his opinions to the other council members prior to the meeting.

“Procedurally, he did the right thing,” Croy said, noting that the exchange of information can constitute a “walking quorum,” which violates the law.

Hard copies of written information may be mailed because they are largely one-way exchanges. Emails, however, are in a gray area of the law.

According to a 2019 Wisconsin Open Meetings Law Compliance Guide by state Attorney General Josh Kaul, “Although no Wisconsin court has applied the open meetings law to these kinds of electronic communications, it is likely that the courts will try to determine whether the communications in question are more like an in-person discussion – e.g., a rapid back-and-forth exchange of viewpoints among multiple members – or more like non-electronic written correspondence, which generally does not raise open meetings law concerns.”

Members of the board voted in favor the proposed ordinance with the amendments to require permits to park between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. for designated areas in all city-owned parking lots and allow visitor parking with permission from the police department.

Roberts cast the sole dissenting vote.

Downtown street parking

The same parking restrictions between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. apply for several downtown streets.

  • North Water Street, between North Shawano and North Pearl Streets.
  • South Pearl Street, between North Water Street, Waupaca Street and East Beacon Avenue.
  • Wisconsin Street, from North Water Street north to its end.
  • State Street, from North Water Street – north to its end.
  • Lincoln Court, from Wolf River Plaza to Waupaca Street.
  • St. John’s Place, from North Water Street to Waupaca Street.
  • Park Street, from Pearl Street to St. John’s Place.
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