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City puts brake on parking plan; Curb paint, signs ordered to ease problems

BEMIDJI - The city is stepping away from a proposal for permit parking in the neighborhood bordering Bemidji State University.

Instead, the Bemidji City Council has ordered that the neighborhood's curbs leading up to alleyways and intersections be freshly painted and that signs be erected in advance of intersections stating clearly that no parking is allowed between that location and the corner of the intersection.

"As a council member I'd like to see that right away," said Greg Negard, who made the motion Monday night. "Let's get something started."

The council also left open the possibility of hiring a full-time parking enforcement officer for the Bemidji Police Department. The feasibility of that idea is expected to be explored next Monday during a budget work session at City Hall.

Currently, there are two part-time parking officers who work between 20 and 30 hours a week, according to Police Chief Mike Mastin.

A city committee recommended the city make available up to 112 on-street permits to residents living between Birchmont Drive and Bemidji Avenue, and 10th and 17th streets. The proposal aimed to force nonresidents - mainly Bemidji State University students and faculty - to park on campus and alleviate issues like blocked driveways. Parking restrictions would be enforced between 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.

The plan didn't gain much traction with the council, even after John Chattin, city manager, pointed out the newest proposal removed the previously suggested $30 cost per permit.

City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, who both represents and lives in the neighborhood proposed to be affected by permit parking, opened proposed an alternative plan to permit parking.

He proposed that parking enforcement be increased and fines for improper parking be increased to $50 for the area affected.

"We got this response from a lot of people," he said. "Students highly recommended this. Make it sting a little bit."

Further, he suggested that vehicles should be towed if they are blocking alleys and driveways.

Waldhausen, the council representative to the BSU Student Senate, said he would like to have the alternative plan in place while he would continue working with the Student Senate, BSU faculty and administrators. Another forum would be held in November to gauge any positive changes.

"Rather than going to a permit proposal right away I'd like to give this a good opportunity to work," he said.

Councilor Ron Johnson, who works for Lakeland Public Television on the BSU campus, said enforcement obviously works. Students do not park in BSU lots without the proper permit due to the continuous enforcement by BSU Public Safety.

"Enforcement would solve the problem," Johnson said.

Chattin said the Bemidji Police Department is not able to constantly enforce parking standards throughout the city due to available resources. He noted the city's police officers respond to more calls for service than every other regional center in the state.

"We just don't have adequate people to be able to enforce that," he said.