HARPERS FERRY – Assurances by the Harpers Ferry Planning Commission that a proposed change to parking regulations is only at a very preliminary stage did little to quell a vehement protest by residents, during a recent meeting.
The plan includes a number of policy proposals including allowing individual neighborhoods to require permits for on-street parking, requiring off-street parking for all new homes, creating and marking new on-street parking spots. The plan also proposes using “paper streets” to access off-street parking and calls for the creation of on-street parking places, the designation of no parking zones and regulating the loading and unloading of goods to promote traffic flow.
Its goal, stated in the plan itself, is “to have a street system that is safe to use and provides appropriate access to adjoining land uses with a minimum of adverse impact.”
Residents who attended the commission’s recent meeting said they object to a proposal to implement a parking permit system – fees for such permits ranging between $25 and $400 per vehicle yearly. For homes with no off-street parking and that are unable to add private parking because of space or topographical constraints, the permit would cost $25. For residents with the physical capacity to add off-street parking but have chosen not to, the permit would cost $200. Residents with off-street parking who choose to park on the street would be charged $400.
While the plan states that “no one will be required to obtain a parking permit” it would allow the majority of residents of a neighborhood to petition the town counsel to implement permit requirements for parking in that area.
Planning Commission Member Steve Ramberg said the proposal is also an attempt to address problems with current residential parking policies.
“People should understand that the current signs for residential parking are entirely unenforcable,” Ramberg said. “There’s nothing in the ordinances that says there is a violation for parking in them. The extent of them is unknown. Police cannot tell whether the car in that general area belongs in the town or not.”
“Visitor parking is likely to increase for a number of reasons,” Ramberg said, specifically citing increased parking fees at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
Town resident Wayne Bishop said the general public is not aware of the policy and that those who are aware of it are completely confused on reading the ordinance. He said 30 residents on East Ridge Street have “completely rejected this plan.”
Bishop presented the Planning Commission with a petition against the proposal, along with a personal letter and letters from two residents, both lawyers, who feel that the proposal is illegal.
“They’ve deemed it legally unsustainable, unconstitutional, and it’s a tax. So you’re going to tax some people one way in town and some people another,” Bishop said. “If this comes to counsel, if it isn’t thrown out in it’s entirety you’ll be met with a lawsuit.”
Mark Wenger objected to the notion of using so-called “paper streets” – streets that only exist on maps and have yet to be developed – for parking purposes.
“I think the idea of starting to use your paper streets – as the comprehensive plain laid out – that these were going to become public parks, trails and throughways for the public,” Wenger said. “That they may in some way be used for private parking is not only unconscionable but it is actually not in your best interests … This is a quality of life issue.”
Wenger, referring to such places as “pocket parks,” called them great assets for Harpers Ferry.
“Once in private use, from public ownership, they never revert back,” he said.
Former mayoral candidate Bob Johnson questioned why any changes in the parking system were needed.
“There is no parking problem in Harpers Ferry,” Johnson said. “If you’re trying to save people the $6 for parking their vehicle … it seems that if they can’t afford $6 to park their car they aren’t going to spend any money downtown at all.”
Many also objected to the different levels of fees associated with obtaining a parking permit and said they preferred a single fee level for all permits.