Parking paradise or purgatory?

Village’s parking enforcement begins

By Jim Newell
Review Editor

Finding parking spots in downtown Lake Orion can be problematic, but village officials hope a new parking plan and enforcement will help visitors to the business district find parking spots and create the necessary turnover in downtown lots.

The village’s Passport parking enforcement system is up and running and three parking enforcement agents began checking on vehicles parked in downtown Lake Orion last week.
After the first week of operation, April 1-7, parking enforcement agents worked 30 hours total, issuing 51 citations, 49 of which were warnings, Lake Orion Police Chief Jerry Narsh said. The other two were for violations other than timed parking.

Agents also will check on violations such as parking in handicapped spots, loading zones or taking up more than one parking spot.
The proposed parking ticket fees are a warning for the first offense, $15 for the second offense, $30 for the third offense and $45 thereafter.

But Narsh, village officials and the Parking Advisory Committee that developed the new parking restrictions, lot hours and enforcement want employees, residents and visitors to know that the new system is about directing vehicles to the appropriate lots and parking spots for the duration of their visit.

“It’s not about tickets. It’s not about money. It’s about education,” Narsh said. “We’re asking folks to please help us, please help create a parking system that benefits everyone.”

The village approved hiring four parking enforcement agents. The three on the job now are from the Lake Orion/Orion Township area, so they’re familiar with the downtown, Narsh said. “Our instructions to parking enforcement is to not just be parking enforcement, but to be ambassadors of the village; to answer questions and give people directions, if they need it. We trust that folks will find them professional, polite and courteous.”

The goal is to keep the two-hour parking on the streets open for customers and guests and create greater turnover in those spots. Employees and residents who live downtown and will be downtown for longer periods of time should use one of the six-hour or, preferably, 23-hour lots, Narsh said.

And that two-hour parking on the streets limit is strongly advised by the village’s traffic engineering company through Mainstreet Oakland County to keep spots open so shoppers can find a spot and patron downtown businesses.

“If you’re going to be in our downtown for more than two hours, use one of our lots. You’re only one-and-a-half blocks away from any destination. And, that walk will burn off calories, so you can have that dessert at one of our restaurants,” Narsh said.

“We’re one of the last communities in Oakland County that has free parking. But there has to be controlled parking for good reason. We have an 1850s downtown parking infrastructure with 2019 traffic,” he said.

Parking on streets and in lots

Parking on downtown streets will be limited to two hours. The municipal lot on Shadbolt (on the north side of Lockhart’s) and the lot on Anderson/Front streets (the old Whiskey’s site) are being shifted from 23-hour lots to six-hour lots to help create turnover.

The new lot between the fire station and the Orion Art Center on Anderson Street has 19 spots and is a 23-hour parking lot. The municipal parking lot on Anderson Street, next to Children’s Park, and the lot on Shadbolt/Lapeer (behind Fork ‘n Pint) will remain 23-hour lots, according to the plan.

The lot on the corner of Front and Anderson streets (the old Pet Centre lot) is also a 23-hour lot.

Paying for Parking Enforcement

The village’s 2019-2020 proposed fiscal year budget has a Parking Fines Revenue line item of $40,000 for parking in the police budget. The estimated cost for the four, part time parking enforcement agents – who will be out at various hours – is $32,478, including wages, overtime, social security and worker’s comp. insurance.

However, Narsh said there is no mandate for parking enforcement agents to issue tickets to meet a specific amount of revenue.

“There’s no quota, and there won’t be as long as I’m chief. This is not about issuing tickets. We have a responsibility to do this for our downtown. There’s a lot of businesses that rely on short-term parking for customer use. We want to educate people on where to park and create (parking) turnover,” Narsh said.

Passport system and digital chalking

The Passport system allows parking enforcement agents to enter a vehicle’s license plate, make, model, take a photo and record the time that they checked on the vehicle. Then, if the vehicle is in a two-hour parking spot and they check again after two hours and it’s still there, they know the owner has violated the time limit.

Agents carry handheld printers so they can print off a warning or fee ticket on the spot.

Parking enforcement agents will also take a photo of the tires and the Passport system “remembers” the valve stem placement on the tires. So, if a car is moved – especially in the six-hour and 23-hour lots – the valve stem position will be different and agents will know the car has been moved, Narsh said.

Shared lots and time limits

The village has several agreements with area businesses to use some, or all, of their lots for public parking. But anyone who parks in a shared lot should observe the time limits for the lot.

Most shared lots allow public parking after 6 p.m., but between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., those lots are dedicated for employees and customers to those businesses. Anyone who parks in those lots during business hours is subject to a ticket – or could be towed.

“Most of our shared lots are public parking between 6 p.m. and 3 a.m. There’s no parking in lots (except the 23-hour lots) or on the streets between 3-5 a.m.,” Narsh said. “That’s for snow removal and cleaning in the summer. Our DPW has to be able to clear those lots and streets.”

Business employees and downtown residents

Narsh said it’s important for downtown residents and business employees to register their vehicles with the police department and adhere to the parking rules.

“The purpose of the registration of plates is so that we don’t write those employees and residents tickets,” Narsh said, adding that registering employees’ and residents’ plates gives the village a better idea of just how many cars are visitors and how many are long-term locals. “Now we can begin to manage it better. We couldn’t manage it before because we didn’t know the numbers.”

Residents and employees – under a village ordinance created in 1984 that was urged by the business owners at the time – cannot park on the downtown streets, though that has rarely been enforced until now, Narsh said.

So far, Narsh said 140 employees from 24 downtown businesses have registered their license plate numbers. There are 74 businesses in the downtown district.

Downtown business employees and residents can register their vehicle license plates so that parking enforcement agents and police will know their vehicle is allowed in 23-hour and six-hour lots for those time periods. For license plate registration, questions or comments, email parking@lakeorionpolice.org or stop by the police department at Village Hall, 21 E. Church St.

“If people have questions, come and see me. My office door is always open,” Narsh said.