BY PHIL CUSTODIO
Clarkston News Editor
Residents of E. Washington Street were not impressed with a proposal to “fix” parking on E. Washington Street by improving the right of way in front of homes.
“We’re not adding more parking on E. Washington – we’re trying to fix it,” said Parking Committee member Richard Detkowski at their Aug. 2 meeting.
E. Washington resident Lona Battishill said they don’t want people parked in their front yards.
“It’s a deadend,” Battishill said. “You brought restaurants into our town without parking – I don’t feel we are responsible to provide parking to restaurant patrons.”
With Church Street closed to onstreet parking and opening of Honcho and Fed restaurants, traffic and parking has increased exponentially, said resident Gary Casey.
“I don’t want to live in a parking lot,” Casey said. “The character of Clarkston would be a lot more affected by this plan.”
The plan is to improve the city-owned right of way on E. Washington with gravel, signs,, and timber, which would allow Oakland County Sheriff’s deputies to issue more parking tickets to drivers blocking driveways and other violators, Detkowski said.
About 20 vehicles can park on the E. Washington easements. However, many of the them are covered in grass, which drivers are reluctant to park on, said City Manager Jonathan Smith.
“It would expand the width through the use of gravel,” Smith said.
“Hopefully, it would idiot proof parking over there,” Detkowski said. “The bottom line is, the right of way is owned by the city. We do need the parking.”
Residents would benefit by getting rid of parking in front of driveways and double parking. No parking would be permitted in the cul-de-sac, at the deadend, he said.
They would try to keep a uniform look, with equal amounts of gravel in front of each home so people can park off the street, Smith said.
When vehicles are parked on both sides, there is only 10-11 feet between the vehicles. If a firetruck needed to drive down there, it would scrape all the vehicles’ side mirrors off, the city manager said.
Scott Reynolds, E. Washington resident who is running for City Council in November, said parking is a challenge for the city.
“As soon as you blocked Church, the problem shifted,” he said.
The city should present its full vision and plan for parking to the community, and get the public behind it, he said.
“Get the community on board with you,” Reynolds said. “Look into creative funding and outside sources. Other communities have done that – you’re asking us about this with blinders on, to give input on this small section.”
Church Street resident Cara Catallo said opposition to the plan seems to be based on fear of the unknown.
“It seems a little bit like the sky is falling, it would somehow destroy the character of the community,” Catallo said. “It just seems to me a peculiar thing. I don’t consider Buffalo a parking lot, with cars parked there – there’s such a large right of way.”
E. Washington Street resident Carol Eberhardt said she doesn’t care if people park on the street, and asked the committee to consider allowing parking back on Church Street.
“Water seeks its own level,” Eberhardt said. “Instantly, when parking went off Church, Washington started filling up.”
Clarkston is a community, not individual neighborhoods, she said.
“Our home values are directly linked to the strength of downtown,” she said. “We should be thankful. We are blessed to be this busy.”
Eberhardt has a “no parking this is a private drive” sign in front of her house. She received permission from the city for the sign years ago because the house has no driveway, she said.
“Carol clearly does have a unique situation, given that she has no driveway – she needs street parking year-round,” Smith said. “The fact that she is a previous city manager is, honestly, just a coincidence.”
The sign is an acknowledgment the house has no driveway and needs to use the easement area for primary parking on a long term basis, he said.
“Because of this unique situation, a sign was installed in front of that easement. This exception will no doubt be extended to any future owners of that property as well,” Smith said. “No legal right-of-way has been granted to my knowledge.”
There are no other parking hardship situations in the city he is aware of, he said.
Currently, sheriff deputies cannot enforce any type of parking violation relating to this sign, said Lt. Larry Perry, commander of Oakland County Sheriff’s Office Independence Township substation.
“The homeowner would have to contact the City of the Village to have the correct and official signage posted,” Perry said in an email. “With the future parking plans for Washington Street, the City of the Village would have to decide to allow for some type of restricted parking designation for the home owner.”
The committee also discussed reducing the number of parking permits in the city-owned lot at Main and Washington streets.
The city issued up to about 35 permits to park along the north and west sides of the lot, which are marked for permit-only parking.
Smith said he’s seen about half of the spots not being used at times parking has been scarce downtown.
Christina Calka, owner of Village Fashion Boutique across the street from the lot, has three permits but only needs one at a time.
“The biggest problem is, it was poorly executed,” Calka said.
Records are spotty about who has the permits, and they may have to go door to door to find out, he said.
If the city makes the lot paid-parking, they could continue to issue some permits, programmed into the parking kiosk, he said.
“The challenge for the parking committee is where the hardship line would be,” he said. “Unfortunately, we can’t give away parking permit to everybody.”
Charging people to park in the lot would probably hurt business, Calka said.
“I will lose patrons if they have to pay every time they stop in,” she said. “I think this is going to deter patrons. It’s difficult enough to have a thriving business downtown to start with.”
Other issues discussed by the committee included the history and possible future of the city’s parking deferment ordinance.
According to the ordinance, new businesses downtown are required to provide parking spaces based on size and usage. If they didn’t have room for them, they pay a fee to the city to pay for parking lot maintenance and other improvements.
“Years ago, that was kind of let go,” Smith said. “To go back now and knock on doors and say, you owe us 100 grand, that would probably drive lot of businesses right out of town.”
A monthly payment instead of lump sums might be a way to go, he said.
“It’s still going to be really tough on businesses,” he said.
Reynolds said the path forward may be to pay a small percentage at a time.
“To go backwards and enforce would seem extra challenging,” he said.
Smith said they are trying to avoid putting hardship on residents.
“The idea is to put the burden on patrons who use the lots, probably from out of town, with paid parking,” he said.
Main Street resident Lorry Mahler said the potential parking problem was known at the time the city allowed the new restaurants into downtown.
“They knew that – they still voted to give everyone a pass,” Mahler said.
Smith said they’re working on a comprehensive parking plan and will present the first 4-5 ideas to City Council on Aug. 14.
“The components are coming together,” the city manager said. “We’re looking at big the picture, a comprehensive solution. This isn’t done.”
Ideas under consideration would add as many as 254 spaces, including 100 in the Clarkston Mills lot, 50-60 spots around the city, and more just outside the city limits, he said.
“We’ve found lot of great solutions within a couple blocks, couple blocks away,” said committee member Leanna Hahn.
Parking outside the city include Deer Lake and Renaissance High School, would bring the city close to solving its parking issue, said committee member Kay Pearson.
“We’ve gotten too big for our britches quickly. It’s a good problem to have,” Detkowski said.
The committee will meet on Aug. 9 to discuss recommendations for City Council.
BY PHIL CUSTODIO