Commercial parking in downtown lot concerns city officials

Jul 24, 2014 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Riverton city officials are weighing potential changes to parking regulations at the public lot on Fremont Avenue and Broadway.

The lot is not regulated at all, according to Riverton Police Department chief Mike Broadhead. He hasn't received any official complaints about the space, but he noted that numerous commercial vehicles are parked in the lot long-term.

"Recently I was down there, and seven companies had one or more vehicles parked there," Broadhead said at a meeting this month. "They were mostly commercial vehicles, with some commercial trailers.

"This evening, there is a commercial truck and trailer parked on Fremont outside of the lot as well."

When the city hosts civic events downtown, Broadhead said the vehicles take up spaces that could be used by participating community members. On a regular basis, however, he said the commercial vehicles don't pose a problem.

"There are 30-40 spaces available on any general day," he said.

He has spoken with several of the companies who use the lot, and he said they "weren't interested" in voluntarily moving the vehicles.

"They use the lot, and they expect to use it," he said.

He suggested asking the owners of the commercial vehicles to vacate the lot when public events are planned nearby.

One business owner in the area was worried that, if the city does begin regulating the lot, then the commercial vehicles all will be parked on the street, taking up customer parking spaces. Councilwoman Mary Ellen Christensen echoed that concern and suggested no action be taken.

"It seems there are a lot of empty spaces," she said. "If it's not broken, let's maybe not fix it."

Mayor Ron Warpness said the city could issue permits to companies planning to use the lot for long-term parking.

"For Riverton and its citizens to just be giving (free parking) to seven different companies that leave their vehicles there for indeterminate lengths of time, it doesn't seem quite fair," he said. "It's their responsibility as business owners to provide parking spaces for their vehicles - not the city's."

He added that he would like to discuss the prospect with the businesses in question before moving forward with a permit structure.

A formal permit also could involve assigned parking spaces, making it easier for the city to organize snow removal from the lot in the winter.

The parking lot was built in the 1980s, funded through assessments paid by downtown businesses and property owners through a special improvement district.

Councilman Rich Gard noted that, eventually, the city will have to pay to repave the parking lot, and it would be nice to have revenue from permits to fund such a project. But he wondered whether the companies using the space would go elsewhere to avoid paying for a permit.

Gard also was concerned that private citizens would be confused about the regulation. He said people might refrain from parking in the lot because they think they need a permit.

Warpness countered that the permit structure could be removed if the change doesn't have the intended effect.

"It's not something we're engraving in stone necessarily," he said.

Councilman Jonathan Faubion clarified that the permit would only be for commercial vehicles left in the lot for more than 48 hours, for example.

"(These businesses) just use the city parking lot as their yard to park vehicles - that's unfair to other businesses that spend the money to have their own yard for their own vehicles," Faubion said.

"That doesn't sit right with me, that the city parking lot for the citizens and business owners of downtown should be used as long-term storage for commercial purposes."

City administrator Steven Weaver said a sign banning commercial vehicles from the lot could solve the problem simply.

"That would be the easiest," he said. "The minute you start doing parking permits, the amount of money you collect in fees doesn't even pay for the time it takes to collect it all."

Faubion predicted a ban on commercial vehicles would only push the trucks and trailers onto the street, while permit parking would bring money to the city while allowing the vehicles to remain in the lot.

"I don't see any reason why asking them to pay a fee to park their vehicles there overnight in the long term is out of line at all," he said. "You can either build your own parking lot, which is expensive, or you pay to use someone else's, which can be expensive."

Warpness said he wouldn't want to "gouge" the companies with an overpriced permit fee.

"We don't need to be onerous about it," he said. "(We want to) try to work with them."

Weaver said he would meet with his staff to come up with a proposal for the lot.

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