A proposal before the Select Board would end the two-hour parking limit on both sides of Park Street.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two members of the Select Board on Monday pushed back on one piece of a sweeping proposal to update the town's parking regulations.
Town Manager Jason Hoch presented the proposed changes that are outlined in a memo from Police Chief Kyle Johnson. Together, Hoch and Johnson took stock of the town's parking rules over the last year after substantial completion of the construction on and around Spring and Latham streets prompted a revision to the spots designated as legal in the town's bylaws.
From that conversation sprung a wider evaluation of the bylaws and proposals that will impact parking throughout the town and, Select Board members feared, detrimentally impact use of one public way that runs through the heart of Williams College's campus.
The proposal that would impact the entire town would be the removal of Williamstown's overnight parking ban, except from Nov. 1 to April 30, when a ban would facilitate snow removal. But that is not the proposal that generated the most comment by the board, which took no vote on the proposals after their "first read."
The most discussion about the five suggestions offered by Johnson came about No. 3: a proposal to eliminate the two-hour on-street parking limit on both sides of Park Street.
Hoch explained that the change was proposed in part because the town already makes numerous exceptions to the time limit for events ranging from productions of the Williamstown Theatre Festival to funerals at St. John's Episcopal Church.
"Most of the time we spent thinking about enforcing on Park Street, is spent thinking about not enforcing on Park Street," Hoch said.
But Select Board Chairman Jeffrey Thomas and board member Andrew Hogeland countered that removing the two-hour limit — particularly with allowing overnight parking six months out of the year — would turn Park Street into a parking lot.
"It's very popular for students to park there," Thomas said. "My thought is if there's not a time limit there — particularly given the college's restrictions on who can have cars and where they can park — Park Street could become a parking street for Williams students."
"They could park there all day and all night," he said.
"They could leave a car there for weeks, potentially," Thomas added.
Hoch said the town, "could not find a public need for turning over those spots."
And he said that the winter overnight parking ban — which coincides with most of the regular academic year — would prevent abuse, and the town could monitor the street in the spring to see if it needs to revisit the idea of a time limit.
"Do we write a policy anticipating the worst behavior or do we start with wanting to believe that people are largely better than that?" Hoch said. "Just because we let this sit for decades on the books before doesn't mean we have to let it sit for the ensuing decades."
Again, none of the proposed parking changes were voted by the Select Board on Monday night. Hoch said at the outset that his intention was to give board members at least until their next meeting to consider the proposed changes before taking any steps.
As for the overnight parking ban in warm weather months, Johnson's memo indicated the town already "road tested" the idea.
"Effective June 1, 2019, we temporarily suspended enforcement of the year-round ban on [all-night parking], but continued to record potential violators in an effort to track what, if any, negative effects might result from allowing [overnight] parking during non-winter months," Johnson wrote. "We recorded 729 potential [overnight parking] violators from June 1 to Sept. 30 town wide, but heard no negative feedback from anyone."
Hoch said because the town's interest lies in making sure that streets are clear for plows, limiting the overnight parking ban to November through April makes sense.
Johnson also recommended that the Select Board raise the town's fine for regular parking violations from $15 to $25, in part to discourage repeat offenders. He recommended no change to the current $100 fine for violations related to handicapped parking.
Hoch said that while some municipalities have a scale of fines that increases for repeat offenders, such a system would require an investment in equipment that is not warranted by Williamstown's volume of parking tickets.
Police officers issuing tickets have to put the fine on the ticket, he explained. To charge repeat offenders a higher amount would require officers to wirelessly access the town's database of tickets in the field — an approach that makes sense in areas with a high volume of tickets.
While Thomas led the argument against one of proposed changes to the parking bylaws, he was largely complimentary of the initiative.
"The bottom line is you're trying to relax parking restrictions townwide," Thomas said. "I think it's a wonderful thing for a municipality to ask, 'How can we restrict less and control less?' The Libertarians out there will be happy."
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