However, keeping the limit at two hours will still serve a purpose, even if few tickets are written, the council decided at its April 7 meeting.
Mayor Don Hillman said the city should consider passing an ordinance to overturn the current parking law, which limits vehicles to two hours in downtown spots. The law is rarely enforced, and Police Chief Roy Eckerdt said he doesn’t have the manpower to mark tires and write tickets.
“It’s been pretty much unenforceable,” Eckerdt said.
“If we’re not going to enforce it, I don’t know why we would want it,” Hillman said. “It’s the type of ordinance we really don’t need. It’s so hard to enforce.”
He said it’s like driving 55 mph in town — if no one complains, is it legal?
“No, you’re not legal but you didn’t get caught,” City Attorney Sandra Kitchen said. “The issue is, do you want to leave it on the books and not enforce it?”
Councilman John Wetzel said he favored retaining it as a “tool” to use against “perennial” illegal parkers. If someone parks by a business repeatedly, perhaps out of spite, the ordinance could be used to prevent such behavior.
“If you take it off the books, you’ll have a free-for-all,” Wetzel said.
He said if the two-hour limit was removed, the current parking shortage in downtown could turn into a real mess.
The matter was brought before the council last month. A business owner said a lack of available parking is harming local shops, and Powell Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jaime Schmeiser said it was a major concern for local retailers.
Eckerdt said he has met with most business owners in the past few weeks.
“It was an interesting experience,” he said.
The primary area of concern is between First and Second streets on South Bent Street, the chief was told. The problem is business owners and their employees, most business owners thought, and especially during the hours of 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Most said they and their workers park behind their buildings, but some said a sign and a few tickets might persuade more people to park off the street.
Councilman Eric Paul said the city did not want to send a discouraging message to prospective customers while trying to deal with a relatively minor problem.
“I’m not a big fan of unenforceable laws,” Paul said.
Councilman Myron Heny repeated what he said at the March 17 meeting — vehicles that are too long obstruct traffic. But the law only prohibits vehicles 23 feet or longer from parking in downtown, which would only cover some larger pickups and a few other vehicles.
Another problem is “feuds,” according to the council, with employees parking in front of rival businesses on purpose. Councilman Josh Shorb said he has seen evidence of that, and other councilmen agreed.
Shorb said he heard from a former downtown restaurant owner who said the two-hour limit should be enforced. But he said he’s not convinced it’s the city’s duty to ensure there is adequate parking downtown, especially since business owners and their employees are causing the problem.
Shorb said businesses that say they want people to shop in downtown Powell should make sure their customers can get to their shops.
“That’s not my problem,” he said. “I think they need to police themselves. They need to help themselves. I don’t want to hire another police officer to do it for them.”
Eckerdt said “the elephant in the room” is the lack of signs downtown letting people know there is a two-hour limit.
Eckerdt recommended creating some 15- and 30-minute parking spots and the council turned that over to the Traffic Committee to make a recommendation. The signs may be placed by Powell Drug.
But in the rest of downtown, it will be up to business owners to try to keep more spaces open, the council said, or to notify the Police Department if a major problem develops.