SIDNEY — Sidney City Council discussed further extending the downtown parking amnesty program currently implemented in downtown Sidney.
At City Council’s Monday evening meeting, City Manager Andrew Bowsher said he brought the topic of the parking amnesty program back to council for discussion because housing development continues to grow around the downtown, and council may want to consider expanding the area of the program and allowing for overnight parking.
Currently the two-hour parking restriction is not enforced within the nine-block area bordered by West Avenue, North Street, Miami Avenue and South Street. The amnesty does not include metered spaces in front of the post office. However, vehicles are prohibited from parking overnight in these on-street spaces from 3 to 5 a.m.
During the 2019 holiday season, City Council temporarily removed the two-hour parking time limits downtown to help businesses through Dec. 31. After no negative feedback was received from the downtown community, council voted to extend the parking amnesty in 2020 and has extended it through Jan. 1, 2023.
Bowsher said city staff met with Sidney Alive, area businesses, and local residents “to ascertain the effectiveness of expanding this amnesty program to include the overnight hours.” He noted having further conversation with the Sidney Police Department about the enforcement current overnight parking restrictions.
“With the future influx of residents within the downtown and the existing residents, it is important to discuss our policies, and work toward a program which permits overnight parking,” Bowsher said, elaborating that with continued development of apartments downtown, developers would likely ask the city to expand parking restrictions.
“I wanted to open this up for a discussion; should this be expanded a little bit further to some residential areas here to the outside of the existing border of the amnesty that doesn’t include this side of west either or the other side. And additionally, with new housing and new rental units coming into the downtown, other parties looking to basically park overnight; should we take a look at this and extend that so there isn’t a blocked out time period between 3 a.m. to 5 a.m.?” Bowsher said.
Council members were open to expanding the program, but did also note some concerns. Council member Jenny VanMatre suggested considering having a parking garage to help with parking so that residents won’t take up parking in spots where patrons would want to park to visit downtown businesses. She also noted that a lot of the parking being taken up around courtsquare are used by those who work in the courts and have permits to park in other area lots.
Council member Mike Barhorst, thanked the city staff street sweepers for sweeping the city streets more regularly now than in the past, but he expressed concern about the ability to plow the snow and sweep streets if overnight parking is allowed.
Mayor Mardie Milligan agreed with Barhorst, liked the idea of a parking garage, and wondered about renting parking spots out and/or utilizing technology with an app to reserve spots within certain areas for downtown residents. The app would likely notify users about when street sweeping would occur, or should not be parked overnight due to an impending snow storm.
Bowsher estimated there would likely be a few hundred people who may eventually locate in new housing in the downtown.
“There is about 240 some (reserved) “spots behind the court-view over there,” Bowsher said when discussion other parking options. “I know the lot that’s over by the county jail is not used. Now if we redeveloped that property, hopefully that would go well. But I do think there is the, ‘I don’t know where to park’ situation. I think there is some communication that needs to be done. I think there is probably a little bit of safety (that’s an issue); hopefully with the activation (of the downtown) project that we are doing with some of the lighting and having better access to some of these parking lots to open some of those things up. I think there is going to have to be a holistic approach here and certainly a balance; I wanted to open this up because as we start to have conversation with developers, as they start to bring in luxury apartments, they are going to want some kind of parking that’s going to be dedicated to their (tenants),” Bowsher said.
Milligan said she had been told residents could apply for a permit to park overnight downtown at their home, and she also asked about a parking study that was to be conducted. Bowsher said he would look into both. Barhorst also asked if Bowsher could bring back a recommendation for council to consider, which he agreed to do.
In other business, a review of the May 16, 2022, Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Commission meeting, and a review of the prospective City Council agenda items for the next 30 days was given.