By JESSE BURKHARDT
Despite a healthy round of public comments on proposed alterations to Bingen's parking regulations, members of the Bingen City Council were unable to reach agreement during a May 18 public hearing.
The council tabled a decision, and will again consider the issue at its next meeting, on June 1.
"They didn't make any decisions on how to proceed with the ordinances," explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending. "The council is still really up in the air, and still considering all the information from the public. Hopefully, they will come to a consensus on June 1."
Brending noted that members of the public also have not settled on any particular approach.
"The public was all over the place. There is no cohesive decision on time restrictions or penalties," she explained.
The council was considering four options for parking in the city:
Option 1 -- Leave the parking as is, with two-hour parking limits from 9 a.m.-7 p.m., seven days a week;
Option 2 -- Maintain the two-hour parking restrictions, but limit the times it's in effect to 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday only;
Option 3 -- Increase the time limit for parking to three hours, in effect 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday;
Option 4 -- Remove all parking restrictions and time limits, except for the existing 30-minute and 15-minute zones.
The council members also will decide if the fines for parking violations should remain at the current $100 maximum fine, or be rolled back to somewhere in the $25-$40 range.
"There was a lot of input and we knew we were going to have a second public hearing on June 15," said council member Laura Mann. "Hopefully we'll have an ordinance at that time. There were a lot of different opinions. Coming up with consensus hasn't happened yet."
Mann added that she believes a $10 parking fine is too low.
"I'm favoring the $25-$40 range," Mann said.
Council member Catherine Kiewit said the different opinions are just part of the process the council goes through to get to the best outcome.
"I know we might come across as divided, but I think we are trying to carefully consider all of the options before making a decision -- so that means exploring all the `what-ifs,'" explained Kiewit. "That process is time consuming, but I think we are close to making a decision."
Mann added that she appreciated the strong level of community input.
"There was a full house at the public hearing; mostly business owners, with a couple residents too. It was good to have that many people," Mann said. "It's always helpful. But everyone there had different opinions."
The public was certainly divided. Out of 11 questionnaires returned to the city regarding the parking options, five supported "Option Two," which keeps two-hour parking limits but only on Monday through Friday; not seven days a week as the current ordinance stipulates.
Two other respondents preferred Option 3; one respondent wanted Option 4; and another two went with Option 1. One did not mark a preference.
One of the biggest employers in Bingen, Insitu, wants the city to go to Option 4 -- essentially no parking limits.
"Based on our business needs, we prefer `Option 4,'" wrote Jennifer Taylor, facilities director for Insitu.
Maria Perez, owner of Bingen's La Colimense, said she supported Option 1.
"As a business owner, this is important for my business, to have parking spaces for my clients," Perez explained.
Steve Wolford, general manager of Antiques & Oddities, Inc., in downtown Bingen, said he also liked Option 1.
"There needs to be enforcement on weekends, which is when people use it as a park and ride the most," Wolford said.
Wolford added that it was high time for the city to resolve the parking situation.
"Parking has been an issue in downtown Bingen since I started my business 18 years ago," he said. "There has never been enough parking to support the downtown core for retail expansion. Parking is critical to our livelihood as small business people."
Wolford added that he opposes the proposed three-hour limit.
"Three hours seems excessive and would encourage employees to start using the parking," Wolford explained, "which is something I have always felt strongly about -- trying to get employees of downtown businesses to park off the street."
The proposed cost of a ticket for violating parking ordinance in Bingen drew a mixed response as well. Five said leave the existing $100 fine; two said they supported fines in the $25-$40 range; and another individual wanted the city to reduce the fines to $10-$15.
The next public hearing on the parking issue will come on Tuesday, June 15, starting at 7 p.m. in Bingen City Hall.