AMESBURY – Residents might be able to park overnight on city streets for the first time in years after the mayor's office recently proposed dumping the winter parking ban and instead declaring snow emergencies when necessary.
The proposal, submitted to the City Council at its meeting Tuesday, mirrors Newburyport's snow emergency parking policy.
If three or more inches of snow are forecast in Amesbury, or other conditions warrant it, Department of Public Works Director Robert Desmarais would recommend the mayor declare a snow emergency, according to the proposal.
That would ban all parking from Amesbury streets during the emergency and authorize police to ticket offenders and tow vehicles. Desmarais would also have the authority to have vehicles towed if they interfere with plowing.
“These proposed changes to our winter parking procedures alleviate the hardship many residents feel not being able to street park in the winter, while still allowing the DPW the ability to safely and effectively treat and clear streets when there is a storm,” Mayor Ken Gray said in a press release.
If a snow emergency is called, blue lights around the city would be turned on until it's over, the same procedure as takes place in Newburyport. The Amesbury Police Department would be charged with that task with the Fire Department and DPW allowed to do so if necessary.
“Residents would be notified prior to the parking ban going into effect via Swift911 notifications, posts on the city website and social media pages, and local and statewide media broadcasts that they need to remove their vehicles from public ways during a specified period of time," Desmarais said. "Once the storm has ceased and roads have been cleared, the ban will be lifted."
Gray said the decision to propose such a radical change came after looking at procedures in neighboring communities, and talking to the DPW, public safety officials and the city clerk.
"We have developed a policy that will utilize our strong notification capabilities to inform residents when a snow emergency has been declared and vehicles need to be moved off public roads," Gray said.
Under the proposal, downtown residents would still need to obtain a free downtown parking sticker from the clerk’s office, allowing them to park in the Friend and Water streets lots during declared on-street parking bans. Stickers would be available beginning Nov. 1.
For several years, residents have been banned from parking on city streets between 1 and 5 a.m. from Dec. 1, to April 1, regardless of weather conditions. Overnight parking is also not allowed in public school and municipal parking lots, including the Friend Street, Main Street, Water Street, public library and School Street lots. Violators can be fined $50 per offense.
The ban has caused widespread consternation, according to District 6 Councilor Rick Marggraf, who applauded the proposal Wednesday.
"This is a great compromise that's long overdue and listens to the will of the people," said Marggraf, who represents the downtown area.
City Council Chairman Matthew Einson said either way, the proposal is worth exploring.
"I think it's a good idea. I think it makes sense to review it," he said.
After what was considered the proposal's first reading by the council Tuesday, it will be sent to subcommittees for review. Einson said it should be back before the full council in October when a final vote would likely take place. He added that the decision would be made before winter.
In December, Salisbury abandoned its similar overnight parking ban and replaced it with a system similar to what is now proposed in Amesbury and already in effect in Newburyport.
Salisbury police Chief Thomas Fowler said while the change has meant more effort for his department, it has worked "very well."
"The residents have been very happy," he said.
Unlike Newburyport or Amesbury, Salisbury does not have a system of blue lights to alert residents of snow emergencies. That prompted Fowler to use social media and Reverse 911 phone blasts to alert residents and show leniency during the new program's infancy, he said.
Despite those challenges, Fowler said roughly the same number of violations were issued.
To sign up for Amesbury Swift911 alerts, residents are encouraged to visit Amesburyma.gov or call 978-388-8121.
Staff writer Dave Rogers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @drogers41008.
ONLINE EXTRA: To read a PDF of the proposed parking policy change.