Parking ban proposal draws strong criticism

by Kurtis Workman
Press Staff Writer

The American Falls City Council accepted public comment on Wednesday, May 1, about a proposed parking ordinance that would ban on-street parking on the 300 block of Harrison Street. According to the designs for the downtown revitalization project the parking strip adjacent to the American Falls City Park will remain open for parking.

Currently the total width of Harrison Street in that block is 44 feet wide from curb-to-curb. Current parking regulations allow for an eight foot parking easement on each side of Harrison Street leaving a 28 foot wide travel lane.

The design of the completed Harrison Street will include a planting strip between the Harrison Street road surface and the parking strip adjacent to the American Falls City Park. The addition of the planting strip will narrow the curb-to-curb width of the street to 37.5 feet.

Numerous citizens attended the meeting expressed their concerns over the parking ban and the overall redesign of Harrison Street.

Members of the American Falls Christian Fellowship asked the council about accommodations for church services such as funerals and weddings.

Mayor Marc Beitia explained there would be a special use permit that would allow the church to offer extended parking on the street for large gatherings.

Sharee Sprague asked the council to describe the procedure for obtaining a special use permit.

American Falls Police Chief Brandon Wilkinson explained the procedure would be handled through his department.

“That request should be made to the police department and I have the authority to grant that permit,” said Wilkinson.

Beitia explained the council’s desire to balance safety with the needs of the community.

“It is not our intention to hamper or impede services at the church, but to increase safety for the children who use the nearby intersection on a regular basis. We understand that during a funeral your church needs the extra accommodation and that is why we have this permit in place,” said Beitia.

Marge Glascock owns a home on the 300 block of Harrison Street. She expressed her concerns that the parking ban would eliminate parking used by friends and family.

“I live on the 300 block of Harrison Street and I want to know where people are going to park when they come to my 90th birthday party. You are taking away the parking I have to accommodate those people that want to come visit me. People don’t walk in this town. If they have to walk a block they just won’t come,” said Glascock.

Beitia did highlight the parking strip across the street from Glascock’s home, but Marlene Wiles clarified Glascock’s concern for the council.

“Mrs. Glascock is speaking about her age. Her friends are up in age as well and I don’t believe they want to cross a busy road that will be slick in the winter,” said Wiles.

Several of the citizens that made comments were concerned about the impact the finished Harrison Street will have on commercial traffic through town.

David Zimmerman said there is a lack of respect for farm equipment traveling on local roads.

“I farm on both sides of town, and people don’t respect farm equipment like they used to. It is very nerve wracking to bring a piece of equipment through town. I would like to ask the council what route I am supposed to use when I move my equipment if Harrison Street is narrowed,” asked Zimmerman.

Beitia responded by offering police assistance escorting large equipment through town. Wilkinson added he would be willing to discuss routes with Zimmerman to best accommodate his farming operation.

“We have numerous farmers that request our help. Just let us know when you plan to move your equipment and we will be ready for you or any other farmer that needs our help,” said Wilkinson.

Don Haskins of the Power County Highway District expressed concerns about a narrowing Harrison as well.

“I would like to bring to the council’s attention that Harrison Street is part of the alternate route plan for Highway 39 and Interstate 86. If there is an accident, like we had recently, or a snow problem all of that traffic will be coming through the city,” said Haskins.

Bob Wetzel spoke as a Power County Highway District Commissioner about what he sees as the lack of long term planning.

“I remember when the freeway project was on the drawing board and the department of transportation made the business loop. I think they did a good job of planning for larger equipment at a time when a big farm truck was a two-axel bobtail dump truck. Trucks and equipment are now longer and wider, I don’t see how narrowing the street is a good plan,” said Wetzel.

Downtown revitalization project engineer Alan Giesbrecht of JUB Engineers tried to explain the width of the travel lane would increase under the new design.

“Currently with parking allowed on Harrison the width of the travel lane is 28 feet. After the project is complete, and if this ordinance passes the travel lane will be 37.5 feet wide. That is an increase of roughly nine feet in round numbers,” said Giesbrecht.

The council concluded the public hearing and read the proposed ordinance at length as per procedure.

At the end of the council meeting several council members were concerned by the public comments, and felt that more time should be allotted to allow more input about concerns citizens have about Harrison Street.

“I don’t want to rehash what we heard tonight specifically, but I believe it is obvious there are some major concerns about that specific part of the project and I would like to hear more input from the community on the matter,” said council member Stuart Pankratz.

“I understand tonight was about the ordinance, but I don’t think there is a way to separate the ordinance and the downtown project into two discussions. I also think there is more we need to hear about the concerns our residents have,” council member Dan Hammond said.

Beitia agreed there was a need for more comment and added another 30 minute discussion period to the agenda for the Wednesday, May 15, council meeting.

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