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Parking proposal panned

Nick Nelson, one of two co-presidents of the Bemidji State University Student Senate, speaks against the parking permit system proposed for the neighborhood around BSU in a Monday evening meeting at City Hall. Bethany Wesley | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - A parking permit system considered for the neighborhood bordering Bemidji State University is unfair to those who live in the area, residents said Monday during a public meeting on the issue.

Residents, landlords and students spoke out against a city proposal to make available $30 parking permits for those who live in the area. The city proposes to offer 112 on-street permits on a first-come, first-served system to residents between Birchmont Drive and Bemidji Avenue, and 10th to 17th streets northwest.

"Let me be frank: This is going to cause a major problem for BSU students," said Nick Nelson, co-president of the BSU Student Senate.

Students now can purchase a $105 parking permits through BSU allowing them to park in BSU parking lots. Many students, as many as perhaps 300, opt to find on-street parking in neighboring areas, such as the one proposed for permit parking.

But property owners objected to the idea of paying additional city fees to park on city streets that they already pay to maintain.

"I think it's ludicrous that they should be forced to pay that," said Jerry Pickett, who manages rental properties in the area.

Jeff Grabowski argued that the parking permit system would only push the parking problem into another part of the city.

"We have to have some other solution than just a permit system for that individual neighborhood," he said. "I feel like we're going in the wrong direction here."

Several individuals pointed out that the parking lot outside of the Bangsberg Fine Arts Complex is rarely full and said BSU administration needs to find a solution to better address the needs of its students.

One of the alternatives presented for discussion was that BSU should offer free parking in the Bangsberg lot. Another suggestion was that BSU should operate a regular shuttle to and from the large parking lot available outside of the Sanford Center.

Ward 1 City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, who lives in the neighborhood, hosted the meeting alongside BSU student Kent Vanderport. Vanderport reported that BSU has about 1,400 on-campus parking spots for students and faculty and sells about 1,700 each year. He estimated that up to 300 others could be parking on streets surrounding the university.

The issue of over-parking on city streets around the university is a BSU problem, speakers said.

"It's something that BSU should take care of, but obviously they're not going to do that," Vanderport said. "We just don't have the space on campus."

Bill Maki, vice president for finance and administration at BSU, was unable to attend the meeting. Scott Faust, director of communication and marketing, and Casey McCarthy, director of public safety, were in attendance.

"We're here to listen and learn at this point," Faust said. "We're going to continue to listen and be involved as a neighbor."

Rod Witt, a BSU faculty member who has been utilizing on-street parking for about 20 years, said he believes strict enforcement of the existing parking standards should be done for one year as the city and university together work to identify the best solution.

"What we need to do ... is get some enforcement out here," he said.

The parking permit system would make available free visitor's passes for relatives and friends who might come to visit. But several audience members said that wouldn't solve situations such as a luncheon in BSU's Beaux Arts Ballroom or a Tupperware party hosted by a homeowner in the neighborhood.

"There's no way that we can envision 100 percent of the different scenarios," said Waldhausen, who did not serve on the parking committee. But, he continued, "Doing nothing is not acceptable."

With as many as six tenants living in what used to be single-family homes, Waldhausen said, finding parking in the neighborhood has become more than difficult.

"The neighborhood just can't handle it," he said. "Every year it gets increasingly worse and worse and worse."

Emily Malterud, a BSU junior, said she lives two blocks outside of the area proposed for the parking permit system. As such, she would be unable to obtain a parking permit for that area even though she has used available on-street parking.

"I feel like I'm being punished because somebody's parking in front of somebody and they weren't supposed to," she said, referencing complaints about students parking in front of a resident's driveway.

The meeting, which lasted about an hour and 40 minutes, wrapped up as several audience members recommended potential solutions and thanked Waldhausen for calling the meeting.

"The last thing I want is for anyone to have a bad taste in their mouth about BSU or its students," said Kari Cooper, co-president of BSU Student Senate.

Cooper said the city, university and community need to all work together to find a better alternative.

"I would urge the city council not to push forward with this permit proposal, but to instead continue the conversation, continue coming up with solutions," she said. "I really want us all to stay a community and I really want us all collectively to come up with a solution."