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Parking resurfacing as issue for downtown Augusta merchants

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 8:08 PM
Last updated 8:43 PM
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Downtown development continues to be its own worst enemy when it comes to downtown parking.

Deputy Jack Rackliff, who is assigned to the downtown beat during business hours, said he chalked several tires recently - a way to check how long a vehicle has been in a space - to raise awareness, but didn't issue any tickets.  SUSAN McCORD/STAFF
Deputy Jack Rackliff, who is assigned to the downtown beat during business hours, said he chalked several tires recently - a way to check how long a vehicle has been in a space - to raise awareness, but didn't issue any tickets.

The recent sight of chalk marks on tires – a sign the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is planning to enforce the two-hour limit on downtown parking – and the reappearance of warning signs sent engineer Donald Thorstad into the city’s public safety committee Monday with an offer.

“We’re looking for a way out,” Thorstad said. “We’re willing to pay.”

Parking was an afterthought when his firm, Johnson, Laschober and Associates, moved to the 1200 block of Broad Street because so many downtown buildings were vacant.

“We rely on the streets totally” for parking, he said. “When we came down there in 1985, we were the only ones down there.”

Today, however, several of the firm’s 27 employees and customers still need more than two hours at a time in a space, and they’re not alone.

Perry Gunnells, whose salon is in the 900 block of Broad, said not only do his customers occasionally need more than two hours for an appointment, they will not appreciate a parking ticket while visiting his salon.

“If they get a ticket, they’re going to raise sand, and want to take it out of the cost of the haircut,” Gunnells said.

The two-hour limit on parking is not new; it just hasn’t been enforced. The limit was set by an old city of Augusta ordinance from 1975 that survived consolidation, Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell said.

The two-hour signs along Broad, formerly on street light poles removed several years ago for a lighting improvement project, weren’t replaced until Cassell said he was approached by the sheriff’s office earlier this year.

The replacement light poles, valued at $15,000 each, weren’t a good location for the parking signs so the department installed new ones on posts, in similar locations with two or three per block. The two-hour signs along side streets and in the parking wells in the Broad Street median remain where they’ve been for years.

Despite occasional studies – “every four or five years,” Thorstad said, “it’s either this or the parking meters” – Augusta hasn’t done anything about parking expect construct the Augusta Convention Center deck on Reynolds Street.

“Most of the recommendations from the studies are to enforce the existing limits,” Cassell said.

While enforcement is the goal, it hasn’t started yet. Deputy Jack Rackliff, assigned to the downtown beat during business hours, said he chalked several tires recently – a way to check how long a vehicle has been in a space – to raise awareness, but didn’t issue any tickets.

Lt. Ramone Lamkin, the head of the sheriff’s traffic division, said downtown parking limit enforcement is on hold until the Augusta Commission agrees to a clear plan.

Meanwhile, curbs have been repainted and signs replaced to ensure motorists are aware of the limits, he said.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, a state trooper who invited Thorstad to address the committee Monday, said he was receptive to a proposal to sell parking passes to businesses willing to purchase them, or make other arrangements to ensure businesses have parking without fear of tickets or other enforcement measures.

Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen recommended Monday that she, Cassell and officials with the sheriff’s office meet and return with a recommendation on the parking issue, and the city’s public safety committee voted that they do so by Friday.

A final hurdle exists for enforcing downtown parking. The city has no court assigned to hear appeals from ticketed motorists, so it cannot make them pay the $20 fines.

Smith said he hoped a court, possibly magistrate court, could be enlisted to hear parking appeals, to give the tickets “some bite.”

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augusta citizen
augusta citizen 05/14/13 - 09:05 pm
Just let them park

For Pete's sake, most people who go downtown for any length of time are likely ARC citizens. Other than a few from Columbia or Aiken Counties, these ARC folks are already paying plenty in taxes. As for any who do come downtown from Columbia County and Aiken County, they're paying more sales tax for doing business there. All the splosts, splosts and more splosts guarantee that. It's been debated on the Chronicle forums for several years whether downtown has a parkng problem or not. At this point it doesn't matter, why pay for police to go and chalk tires and write tickets if there isn't a court to hear them or a process to collect them? And please don't go back to the regular way around here, another study, in the 5 or 6 or more figures to get dusty on a shelf. If anyone in local Government wants downtown to prosper, just leave people alone. Let them come, let them park, let them spend period. If some have to walk, whatever, the streets are public, paid for by the taxpayers, first come, first served, let it be.

internationallyunknown 05/15/13 - 03:58 am
Besides the Augusta National

Besides the Augusta National and the obsession race, the free downtown parking is what makes Augusta, Augusta.

I thought, the TEE Center parking deck was supposed to relieve the downtown parking issue.

nocnoc 05/15/13 - 07:37 am
Heck if we really want to scare off customers.....

from downtown

why not put the Parking meters back up again.

BTW: GOOD LUCK Getting in out of the B.O.E. in 2 hours,
dozens of bars and a few, but really good restaurants downtown.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/15/13 - 08:24 am
thauch12 05/15/13 - 09:31 am
The thirst for revenue

The thirst for revenue continues...

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 05/15/13 - 10:17 am

I go downtown several times a year during business hours. I have always been able to find a parking place in short order. This ranting about workers parking all day and gobbling up all parking spaces is completely false. It's time to change the law and allow free parking at all times and in all spaces. First come, first served. Just think, maybe they could send Deputy Jack Rackliff out to prevent a mugging downtown instead of chalking tires.

JENNPAT 05/15/13 - 04:53 pm
sacrcity you got that right

they need to worry about people being hurt when they are down town in place of how long someone is parked there.unless the car is parked overnight then the should just have it towed away i thought downtown parking was free . i don't go down there anymore but why not make it free people pay enough taxes to have some free parking spaces there

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