ST. ALBANS CITY — After months of discussion, the St. Albans City Council failed to approve a greenbelt parking ordinance Monday night.
An ordinance to prohibit archery within the city limits except on school grounds or permitted ranges was held over for a second reading, with suggestions for changes.
The archery issue has arisen because of a High Street resident who is shooting from the sidewalk into his back yard, toward the backyards of his neighbors. One of those neighbors has three small children, according to Councilor Scott Corrigan of Ward IV.
“This is a dangerous activity,” said Corrigan. “When you’re 40 feet from your neighbor you shouldn’t fire a dangerous weapon.”
City officials and neighbors have apparently spoken with the man to no avail. According to the discussion last night, the man has also received extensive criticism for his activities on social media.
Councilor Chad Spooner of Ward VI said there are people with large yards who practice archery safely on their property. “Is there any other way we can stop this guy?” he asked.
St. Albans Police Chief Gary Taylor said there wasn’t. The man is well aware the police cannot currently stop him from shooting his bow, according to Taylor.
“I would like to say common sense would be the order of the day,” Taylor added, but in this instance it has not been. He suggested that with crossbow hunting allowed by the state, concerns could also arise about people practicing with crossbows within the city limits.
Spooner said he wanted to see language about types of bows and arrows allowed and prohibited instead of a blanket ban on all archery. The current language, he suggested, is a sledgehammer.
“We’re regulating stupidity,” he said.
Taylor said the ordinance could be revised to potentially allow some types of arrows and bows for practice while banning the most dangerous.
Mayor Liz Gamache said she, too, would like to see narrower language.
The council voted 4-1, with Spooner voting ‘nay,’ to accept the ordinance on a first reading. It will come back before them for a second reading, most likely with more specific language. The council will have to approve the ordinance on a second reading before it takes effect.
Councilor Tim Hawkins, Ward I, had asked city staff if it was possible to carve out an exception in the parking ban for temporary parking in the greenbelt.
The ordinance, as proposed, does allow residents to request permission to temporarily park in the greenbelt, to accommodate visitors, for example, or because of a construction project.
Hawkins had wanted people to be able to park temporarily in the greenbelt without requesting permission first.
City manager Dominic Cloud said city staff had reviewed Hawkins’ suggestion and determined there was no way to enforce a ban that allowed for temporary parking with current resources.
“We don’t feel it’s possible to amend the ordinance in this manner without substantially weakening the objectives which led to the creation of the ordinance,” Cloud said.
In addition to being able to request permission in advance to park in the greenbelt, police will issue a warning before giving a ticket, with one warning per year per license plate, just as with other parking ordinances, he explained.
Parking is already prohibited in the greenbelt by city ordinance. However, the language is convoluted, including the greenbelt in the definition of sidewalk and then prohibiting parking in the sidewalk.
The new, revised ordinance also contains a section saying residents need to contact the city before planting anything other than grass seed in the greenbelt.
Ward II Councilor Jim Pelkey objected to this language.
Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development, explained the city already has residents to contact the city before planting anything in the greenbelt.
When residents want to plant trees in the greenbelt, the city can help them to avoid underground lines when planting, Sawyer said, and select species which will be compatible with overhead power lines.
For all plantings, the city needs to be sure sightlines will be maintained, Cloud noted.
Spooner pointed to the difference in Brown Avenue since the city worked with residents to end greenbelt parking, saying, “The street looks totally different now.”
“This, to me, is a no-brainer. It’s not a huge amount of cost to us and it’s going to make a huge difference,” he said.
“I’ve heard from people on both sides of this issue,” said Gamache. “I think cleaning up the greenbelts will help to invite interest in people living in our neighborhoods.”
Pelkey quoted his wife, stating, “We don’t live in a gated community and we shouldn’t act like it.”
“I, too, aspire to have a beautiful neighborhood, but the libertarian side of me is saying we’re telling people what to do with their land,” said Corrigan.
Cloud noted that in some cases the greenbelt is owned outright by the city. In the rest, the city has a right-of-way. “It’s not unencumbered land,” said Cloud.
Sawyer added it is not just the city that has rights to the greenbelts. Utilities do, as well.
Ultimately, the ordinance failed to pass on a second reading. Gamache, Spooner and Kate Laddison, Ward VI, voted in favor. Pelkey and Corrigan voted against.
Hawkins and Tammi DiFranco, Ward III, were absent.
Lacking a majority of four council members, the vote failed. It will likely be revisited at a future council meeting.
City staff have said repeatedly they will work with landowners to find alternatives to parking on the greenbelt.
To that end, the council held a first reading on an ordinance to allow single-family homes and duplexes with little room for parking to use the side setback for a driveway and if that space is insufficient the front setback.
The ordinance would allow the creation of two parking spaces for single-family homes and four for duplexes.
The proposal was accepted on a first reading. It will have to come back for a second reading before becoming law.