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The parking merry-go-round: Great Barrington changes regs again

Effective immediately, from November 15 through March 30, overnight on-street parking is prohibited between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m.

Great Barrington — It seems like people can never get enough when it comes to the subject of parking in downtown Great Barrington–either there’s not enough, or there’s too much regulation, or annoyed residents complain of getting their cars towed.

Monday night, in response to concerns, the Great Barrington Selectboard revised the town’s policy on overnight parking. For as long as most people can remember, the town had a prohibition against overnight on-street parking from November 15 to April 1 from 1 to 6 a.m. More than a year ago, that policy was changed to a ban on overnight parking only during snow emergencies.

That latter change has resulted in a variety of uncertainties, from difficulty in communicating the emergency to the need to tow cars that were parked defiantly in the way of the town snowplows that needed to clear the streets during overnight hours.

“The problem is it’s very difficult to write a policy that says you don’t ticket unless it’s snowing,” Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton.

On the recommendation of Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, the board this week voted unanimously to change the policy again. After hearing from police Chief Bill Walsh, Department of Public Works superintendent Sean VanDeusen and several residents, the board changed the policy to the way it was before – sort of.

See video below of the discussion of the overnight parking issue:

Effective immediately, from Nov. 15 through March 30, overnight on-street parking is prohibited between the hours of 1 and 6 a.m. Violators will be ticketed. Vehicles that block DPW snow plows will be towed at the owner’s expense. Other parking regulations, however, including daytime rules, remain unchanged.

“We feel this is clear and consistent with what was done in the past, and it meets the needs of people living downtown,” Tabakin said.

Great Barrington Selectboard candidate Holly Hamer suggests a permitting parking system for downtown residents. Photo: Terry Cowgill

“It needs to be crystal clear,” said Stanton, a former Railroad Street resident. “We need a map that shows lots and regs, and signage in lots. We want to encourage people to live downtown.”

Consequently, the new law also states that, on Nov. 1 and at times throughout the two-weeks prior to the start of the overnight parking ban, the Great Barrington Police Department will issue warning notifications to inform all those who park of the upcoming start of the prohibition. In addition, signs will be installed on parking lots where overnight parking is allowed.

And former town library trustee and current selectboard candidate Holly Hamer noted that, in the town lots on the west side on Main Street (e.g. top of Railroad Street) that have unlimited parking, some people abuse the privilege. She suggested a permit system.

“Lots of people park there all winter or people not from Great Barrington park there all weekend to take the bus into New York,” Hamer said. If overnight parking were by permit, she added, “I think you’d see a lot of those spaces clear up.”

“It’s probably a good point to limit that somehow,” agreed Selectman Bill Cooke. “It has been abused by a small number of people.”

Great Barrington Department of Public Works Superintendent Sean VanDeusen explains the need for the overnight parking ban. Photo: Terry Cowgill

So at the urging of the board, Tabakin agreed to examine “the feasibility of issuing residents parking stickers and establish a rule that parking in parking lots will be restricted to a maximum of 24 hours,” she clarified later.

Some residents have questioned why an on-street parking ban needs to be in effect at all. VanDeusen was ready with an answer.

“When a snowstorm is over, we need to get back in and clean those stalls out of snow on both sides of the road because, if we don’t and the cars are parked there, they’ll freeze and the person parking there the next day will be getting out on ice,” VanDeusen.

Of course, that could create a hazardous situation that could expose the town to a lawsuit.

“We certainly don’t want to have that situation with people getting out of their cars in the morning to shop and they slip and fall,” Tabakin said. “So it’s an important concern.”

For visitors or even locals who are baffled when confronted with the urgency of where to put their vehicles, the town government has published a nifty parking guide on its website. It’s got a map with a legend and a guide explaining the ins and outs of downtown and reassuring would-be patrons that “nothing is more than a 5-minute walk.”

The town of Great Barrington published a handy map showing the availability of parking, along with restrictions.

There was some general grumbling about the months and weeks the new on-street parking ban will be in effect: Nov. 15 through March 30. What if, someone in the audience wondered, we had another freak October 4 winter storm, as happened in 1986, when the Berkshires were buried in some 12 inches of snow? The response was that it would not be a problem and that, in any event, it would be extremely unlikely to happen again.

Tabakin and Walsh said, during the January 4 and 5 snowstorm that prompted the towing of several cars, officers on the midnight shift actually tried to track down the owners to alert them so as to prevent the towing. Between 11 and 15 vehicles were on the streets that night. Some, such as the Toyota Avalon of Dr. Benjamin Abelow, were later towed. Other owners were found and were able to move their vehicles.

Police Chief Bill Walsh says his officers do what they can to locate vehicle owners before calling the town truck. Photo: Terry Cowgill

The vehicles that were in violation could easily fit into one of the town lots that allow overnight parking, Tabakin said. A vehicle that violates other parking regulations will be fined $20. But Walsh said there should be no need for that.

“We’ve always put out warning notices two to three weeks prior to the start date,” Walsh said. “We slap them on windshields.”

“I don’t like the idea of police knocking on my door on a regular basis,” Abelow said, though added that he appreciated their concern.

Dr. Abelow, a Main Street resident, read a statement to the board last month detailing his travails. Click here to read it and the invoice for almost $150 he received from Steve’s Auto Repair on State Road.

“Why did it take five days for the [Department of Public Works] to clear the sides of Church Street?” Abelow asked the board on January 22. “Citizens have the right to expect that, if plowing has not been done within a couple of days, they may again park in the street.”

See video below of Dr. Benjamin Abelow appealing to the selectboard Jan. 22, 2018, to reimburse him for towing charges:

Abelow this week revisited the idea that the town reimburse him for towing charges he incurred when his car was found to be blocking the town plows. But the board, while sympathetic to his plight, would have none of it since it would set a precedent.

The board directed Walsh to begin warning parked motorists of the new regulations in the next few days.

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