Commission vote on downtown parking expected

 

Whether downtown businesses and the public are allowed unlimited public parking on Broad Street faces a likely vote by the Augusta Commission on Tuesday.

A two-hour time limit on parking has long been unenforced, but the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office recently stirred the pot by “chalking” tires to measure how long vehicles have been parked, but issued no tickets, according to law enforcement. The city engineering department recently repainted curbs and restored two-hour parking signs removed years ago during a lighting project.

The moves excited business owners in the 1200 block of Broad Street and side streets, and Johnson Laschober and Associates engineer Donald Thorstad implored commissioners at a recent committee meeting to remember how reliant businesses are on downtown parking, particularly in the Broad Street median.

Thorstad’s business and 16 others filed a petition against the two-hour time limit. Petitioners included Planned Parenthood and Augusta Care Pregnancy Center, four restaurants and three design firms.

Commissioner Donnie Smith, a state trooper, said Sher­iff Richard Roundtree was wise to wait for the commission to set parking restrictions before attempting to enforce one. Smith said he expects the commission to deal with parking on Broad from Seventh to 12th streets.

“The bottom line is the authority on changing the ordinance is the county government,” Smith said.

An ordinance from the 1970s was the basis for the two-hour limit, said Traffic Engi­neer Steve Cassell. How­ever, the commission voted in April 1996 to lift the two-hour limit in the median, a detail not overlooked by Thorstad.

“Right now, we’re just not sure about the parking ordinance,” Smith said.

City General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said he was researching the status of city parking restrictions downtown and would present his findings Tuesday.

The issue tends to receive divided commission votes, Cassell said, such as the Downtown Development Authority’s proposal to install underground electronic monitoring discs, which was defeated by the commission.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said he expects the commission to veto a two-hour limit and a proposal to sell parking passes to businesses.

“We’re going to suspend that ordinance altogether,” he said.

Commissioner Marion Williams disagreed.

“If you do that, you’re going to have people leaving their cars down there all day,” he said. “We ought to be glad there’s no parking, so we can create some.”

Williams, who as Super District 9 commissioner inherits a seat on the DDA, suggested another idea for Broad Street: erecting a platform above a Broad Street median parking well where people can gather and overlook downtown revelry. He said this might be possible using the transportation sales tax, which includes funding to revamp Broad Street from end to end if collections suffice.

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