Parking at issue in Canton

By DeeAnna Haney | Feb 03, 2014

Business owners in downtown Canton are being encouraged to use off-street parking in an attempt to address an issue brought up at a recent town board meeting.

Earlier, Fannie Dorlan, a downtown business owner, complained that too many people are violating the two-hour parking rule. In turn, it's affecting her business.

Dorlan owns the Country Music and Dance Parlor, which attracts several people to her second-floor dance hall on Friday and Saturday nights.

However, some business owners who park their vehicles on the street don't leave room for her band to park and unload equipment around 5 p.m.

"I don't want to cause a problem, but my band has equipment that weighs 100 pounds or more and it's very expensive," she said, adding that parking a long distance from her studio means the further they must carry the equipment, sometimes in the rain or snow.

She wondered why the two-hour parking signs are in place if the rule is not enforced.

"It's not being enforced and I would like to see that enforced as a person who is trying to make a living," she told the board.

Signs posted downtown say drivers may park in spaces for two hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. but Canton Police Chief Bryan Whitner said it's been several years since the two-hour parking rule has been enforced, dating back to when Bill Stamey was town manager.

"The official parking enforcement was abandoned because at the time, there was a declining number of businesses in the downtown area, so parking wasn't really a problem," said Interim Town Manager Jason Burrell.

There were several barber and beauty shops at the time and many of the people being ticketed for parking for more than two hours were patrons of those businesses who stayed for several hours at a time.

Whitner said one case that prompted the decision to abandon parking enforcement was when a woman was issued a $5 parking ticket and refused to pay the fine, so the town took the case to court. In the end, a minimal fine cost the town hundreds of dollars in legal fees.

Burrell conducted a study of parking downtown last week, noting the number of cars parked during certain times of the day and who was parked there.

"The results reiterated the fact that merchants and employees are the ones parking along Main Street for an extended period more than customers," Burrell said.

During a board meeting Thursday night, board members discussed how they could readily address Dorlan's issue.

"I would think a simple thing would be to mark it off during unloading hours or let them park in the left lane while they unload [their equipment]" Mayor Mike Ray said.

In the end, it was decided that the police department would work with business owners to make sure space is open for Dorlan's band to unload equipment.

Whitner believes there is a simple solution to the overall issue.

"If business owners would just park off-street, we wouldn't have this problem. To me, that's the easiest solution," he said.

Dorlan, who often parks in municipal parking lots, agreed.

"All of us that have a business should go somewhere else and leave our parking for other people coming through," she said.

Vicki Gregg, owner of Polly's Florist, said it's a frustration for her as well, but she admits she's often just as guilty of parking on the street right in front of her store.

When she was younger and working for the florist, she remembers parking next to Town Hall and walking to the store. She said she intends to make more use of the parking space behind her store because she wants to leave street front spaces open for customers. She plans to only use street front parking when she is loading flower deliveries in her car.

Alderman Zeb Smathers said the board may need to consider making changes to the town ordinance regarding parking.

"Right now the law seems to address parking from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so we may need to amend the ordinance or add something to the ordinance to cover special events or make that time longer," Smathers said.

He added that perhaps the board should take a look at parking enforcement as a bigger issue across the town and not just in the downtown business district.

Whitner said on Friday morning, he was already walking Main Street and talking with business owners about parking behind their stores or using municipal parking lots.

"We want business owners to assist us with solving a very minor problem to avoid larger problems," he said.

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