Finding neutral ground in parking issues

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For a city on the move, Sealy sure seems to have a hang-up with parking issues these days.

City council has been talking a lot about parking in the center spots on Main Street. It has also been talking about the Sealy ISD’s gavel overflow parking lot at the football stadium, but more on that later. First, let’s get to the Main thing.

In my last column I wrote about the parking situation on Main Street. I stood firmly behind City Manager Lloyd Merrell when he said the situation was not safe when he called to do away with center parking. He was met with a flood of resistance by downtown merchants and the council. Rather than making the tough decision, the council opted instead to reach a compromise.

Center parking will be limited to compact cars only. To clarify what that means, no trucks, vans or SUVs are allowed to park there. It says so in the ordinance the council passed and on the signs that were posted downtown last week.

I do, however, have issues with the new signs. For starters, they’re small and very hard to read from a vehicle in motion. Secondly, they say “Reserved Parking.” That to me means those spots are reserved for specific people, kind of like you see in a parking garage. Shouldn’t the signs say “Compact Cars Only”?

Although I have to applaud the council for trying to do something to alleviate the situation, I think all it has done is complicated things. First of all, it will be an enforcement nightmare for the police department and the municipal court as they have to iron out exactly what constitutes a compact car.

Secondly, by continuing to allow parking in the middle spots, the city is ripe for a major liability lawsuit if someone is injured or killed while walking to and from those spaces. Many on the council, in addition to other city officials, have publicly admitted that parking there is dangerous. I get the feeling there are plenty of lawyers circling like sharks just waiting to pounce at first scent of blood in the water.

As for the other parking issue, it’s a lot harder to say what should happen in the dispute between the city and the school district over the gravel overflow parking lot at T.J. Mills Stadium. The city was gracious enough to grant the district a variance to its ordinance requiring that parking lots be paved. It did so twice, and both times the district failed to act. Now the district is seeking a permanent variance so it can leave the lot gravel.

From a legal standpoint, I don’t think the district has a leg to stand on. It’s clearly and willfully in violation. The question is, what will the city do to force the district’s hand? Can it bar people from parking there and/or issue fines to the district? Clearly the city must treat the school district the same as it would any other business in town. Or does it?

A school district isn’t a business that has an option to operate in the city. The school district is a separate governmental agency that must operate within the city. (Technically, the city operates within the school district.) Comparing the school district to any other business is a classic apples and oranges comparison. Does the city have jurisdiction over school property? I don’t know.

For whatever it’s worth, the parking lot is a massive improvement over the cheesy hotels that used to be there. I’m also not a fan of covering up the earth with pavement if you don’t have to. This area is highly prone to flooding and the more impermeable surface we have, the worse the flooding becomes.

The bottom line is there is no winner in this dispute. The clear losers are the district taxpayers because they have to foot the bill for paving or must pay any potential fines if the city goes that route.

It’s my belief that there are more pressing issues for the city and school district to deal with than the surface of a parking lot. I feel that ultimately the district should probably pave it since that was clearly understood that would happen from the beginning. But I also think it’s ill will for the city to force the issue.

Unless it becomes a problem or an eyesore, I say let it be. There is no harm being done. The real damage is in the relationship between two governmental entities that really need to be working in concert with each other to make Sealy the best place it can be. I think that’s something we all want and need.

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