Parking resurfacing as issue for downtown Augusta merchants

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.

Downtown development continues to be its own worst enemy when it comes to downtown parking.

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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