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The city lot

Jul 30, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Is there a bona fide reason to impose new regulations?

The sight of commercial vehicles from a couple of companies occupying spaces around the clock in the free parking lot in downtown Riverton rubs some people the wrong way.

But it probably shouldn't. And even if it does, that seems insufficient grounds for slapping new regulations on the parking lot.

The Riverton City Council has been talking about doing exactly that, kicking around some ideas that could prohibit use of the lot by commercial businesses that aren't located close to it, or limiting the number of vehicles from one company that could use the lot, or restricting overnight or long-term use of the space.

Some have said the lot ought to be regulated just as city streets are. Others suggest a fee system for users who want to park long term or leave multiple vehicle there for extended periods. (For the record, our newspaper business recently moved a vehicle to the city lot, intending to use it for business no more than once a week.)

Any consideration of a new public regulation of this sort ought to be accompanied by a couple of simple questions. Is harm is being done? And could an ordinance address that harm fairly and effectively?

In the case of the city parking lot, it's hard to find the actual harm. The parking lot was conceived and constructed to provide free parking in downtown Riverton. At the time, more than 25 years ago, Riverton still had parking meters on several blocks of downtown streets, and the availability of free downtown parking was a hot public-interest topic.

Also of concern was the desirability of keeping parking spaces in front of downtown businesses open for customers. A free parking alternative for employees of those businesses was part of the impetus for forming the special improvement district that assessed downtown property owners for the funds that built the parking lot.

Not everyone liked that idea at the time, of course, but it was a far-sighted move for Riverton. The free parking lot is a valuable municipal asset that many cities our size don't have.

Despite that, the lot never has been used all that well. While it can fill up during special events such as the Friday Night Cruise or the Fremont County Fair parade, that never comes close to happening on a normal business day. No one looking for a parking spot there on a typical weekday ever has a problem. If that were not the case then a much better case could be made for telling the owners of the small fleets that now use the lot to make other arrangements or else start paying.

Short of that, where is the real problem? It is a free parking lot, there is no rule against parking multiple vehicles there, it is not a city street, the commercial vehicles are licensed and clearly aren't being abandoned, and plenty of parking remains available even when the fleets are there. Perhaps it is irritating to some, but there ought to be stronger justification for rewriting a city ordinance.

This has made for interesting discussion at City Hall, but what's missing is a bona fide to reason to start regulating the lot differently. Until one emerges, the best course probably is to leave it alone.

Related content:
Riverton City Council