ST. ALBANS CITY — A St. Albans City proposal to change its ordinances to make the city’s ban on greenbelt parking clearer, with a $25 penalty for a first offense, has drawn criticism from those concerned about increased parking on the street.
Critics are also concerned fire trucks would not be able to pass parked cars on the street, according to city manager Dominic Cloud.
Greenbelts and how best to preserve them from the damage caused by parking has been on the city council’s agenda for some time. As the city has begun replacing sidewalks around the city, Allen Robtoy, director of public works, has been working with landowners to repair and restore the greenbelts and end parking on them.
For example, gravel parking spots had been created in the greenbelt at the corner of Brainerd and Messenger streets, where the house lacked a driveway. When new sidewalk was put in on the east side of Messenger last year, Robtoy worked with the landowner to remove the gravel parking, restore the greenbelt and install a driveway wide enough for two cars to park side-by-side.
There are similar success stories in other parts of the city. Sometimes it’s as simple as widening a drive, said Robtoy.
“A lot of times they have room on their footprint to do something,” said Robtoy. “It’s just educating them and getting them to do it.”
But without enforcement the new arrangements don’t always stick.
On the corner of Cedar and Lake streets, the city restored the greenbelt along the side of the home on the corner lot, planting grass and arranging with the landowner for tenants to park on Lake Street or in the home’s drive.
What was once a green lawn was, on Monday, a muddy puddle. The tenant had resumed parking on the greenbelt, killing the grass.
“You can’t just park all over it and expect it not to turn to mud,” said Cloud.
The mud isn’t just unattractive, noted Robtoy. It’s a source of sediment and nutrient runoff in the city’s brooks and ultimately St. Albans Bay.
As experts have explained countless times in recent years, protecting water quality means getting stormwater to sink into the ground where it lands rather than flowing into waterways, bringing with it sediment and the nutrients bound up with that sediment.
A vegetated greenbelt absorbs water, a bare one creates sediment-laden runoff.
“You can’t underestimate the impact on stormwater,” said Robtoy.
“The critical ingredient is engagement,” said Cloud. When property owners aren’t willing to discontinue parking in the greenbelt, or require their tenants to do so, the ordinance will give the city “the tools to engage with the property owner and find a solution that works for both of us,” he said.
In another instance, on the corner of Russell and Lake streets the property owner paved over all of the grass on the side of their home, turning it into a parking lot, despite the presence of a driveway.
The greenbelt ordinance comes as the city begins to shift attention from revitalizing downtown to revitalizing neighborhoods.
“What you do in the greenbelt affects everybody else in the neighborhood,” said Cloud.
The ordinance, he added, is aimed at “the habitual offender who degrades what is really common area.”
Although the greenbelt is owned by the property owner, the city legally has an easement that extends 49-feet from the centerline of the road. The easement allows for the construction and management of sidewalks, curbs and underground infrastructure such as water and sewer lines.
Robtoy said cars parking on the greenbelt are less of a danger to water and sewer lines than they are to gas lines.
In many cases to park on the greenbelt, residents have to drive over the curb, damaging it.
Starting in 2017, the city will be spending $4.9 million to replace sidewalks and curbs around the city.
Asked if the ordinance was necessary to protect that investment, Robtoy said the hope is the new curbs will discourage parking in the greenbelt. “The average sedan is not going to be able to navigate that curb,” he said.
Gary Taylor, who serves double-duty as chief of both the fire and police departments, addressed the issue of fire truck passage. “There isn’t an issue with us being able to get through,” he said.
To demonstrate, Taylor had a fire truck driven past parked cars on two of the city’s narrowest streets – Farrar and Upper Welden. In both cases, the truck was able to get past a parked car with plenty of clearance, even when the car was parked several inches from the curb.
If a fire truck can get by, so can most other vehicles, such as an ambulance or school bus, according to Taylor. “The fire truck is as wide or wider than any of those trucks,” he said.
He said that even in winter the city’s fire trucks have been able to get around parked cars.
For Cloud, the condition of the neighborhoods is an issue of economic development, with attractive streets giving the city an advantage. “Our sense of place is our defining edge,” he said. “Let’s not turn the whole city into an unimproved parking lot.”
The city council is expected to hold a second reading of the proposed greenbelt ordinance at its June meeting.