Tuesday evening, the Merrill Common Council heard a first reading of a proposed amendment to the standing off-street parking ordinance and by mayoral tie breaker, tabled a proposed amendment to the standing mobile vendor ordinance.
The off-street parking amendment was met by immediate skepticism during Committee of the Whole discussion, prior to the convening of the council.
As written, the amendment would bar parking on any unimproved yard area, which is adjacent to a public street. However, parking would be allowed on any improved yard area(s), with “improved” being defined as areas covered with rotten granite, asphalt, cement or other similar material approved by the building inspector. Parking complaints would be initiated by a written nuisance complaint received from adjacent property owners(s), district alderperson(s), and/or the Building, Zoning and Property Inspector.
Mayor Bill Bialecki and Zoning inspector Darin Pagel spoke in caution of enforceability of the amendment.
“You can decide what you want to do as a council,” Bialecki stated, “but my question is if this is enforceable or not enforceable. If it’s not enforceable then there is no sense in having the ordinance.”
“This ordinance as written, is complaint driven by specific people,” Pagel added. “Ultimately we do not have the time to go up and down the streets of the city and go after the hundreds of people who are in violation at this point. You’ll have to understand if this is passed, there will be a great need for prosecution and I’m not sure if the city attorney is in a position to prosecute the number of violations we may be looking at here.”
City Attorney Tom Hayden coined enforcement action as “prosecutorial quicksand.”
“If we are going to enforce this, we will need to provide notice and some people just don’t have the approved yard surface to do it,” he explained. “They could, with the addition of rotten granite, concrete or whatever we want to get into. But that takes time as well. I wouldn’t call this is a prosecutorial nightmare but I would consider this prosecutorial quicksand. Once we get into this we will never get out. This ordinance would be a zoning ordinance and would not be enforced by the police department.”
8th District alderman Tim Meehean spoke in favor of the ordinance, citing a need for action to a persistent problem in the city.
“My question is, what is the alternative?” he asked. “The alternative is to either do this, or do nothing. Being difficult to enforce is not a valid reason not to do it. I think we have a problem here. We have some stuff parked in yards and it doesn’t look very good. I think we should have some ordinance or some way to enforce those types of things. I’m not sure if this is it, but we have to have something. To say we are not going to do anything because it’s too difficult is not the right way to go.”
“Every spring we have people who complain about somebody with a muddy front yard and they ask ‘why don’t you do something,’ this is our chance to do something,” echoed 2nd District Alderman Pete Lokemoen.
Third District Alderman Ryan Schwartzman and Sixth District Alderwoman Mary Ball questioned the ordinance. Schwartzman cited instances where residents may be unable to accommodate provisions of the ordinance based on property limitations while Ball questioned the risk of residents facing enforcement action due to temporary circumstances.
“This would apply to campers. One of my concerns is there really isn’t a time frame here. If someone parks a camper in their yard for a month, would that need to be parked on an improved area? I don’t want to make this restrictive where we are punishing people.”
Pagel indicated a plausible likelihood of misdirected complaints.
“If we move forward with this we will have to enforce it. This is complaint driven and some people may be cited who don’t deserve it. We may end up with a dispute between neighbors which has nothing to do with vehicles and parking, that ends up being a parking complaint.”
Following discussion, the committee approved the amendment to proceed for council consideration and received its first reading only.
In other matters Tuesday, an ordinance proposing the creation of a festival grounds committee was referred back to the Personnel and Finance Committee via majority vote.
Schwartzman motioned for the referral based on the proposed structure of the committee.
“I have an issue with city officials serving as voting members on this committee. I just don’t feel comfortable voting on this as is.”
Council president John Burgener seconded the motion.
Also on Tuesday, the committee considered an amendment to the standing mobile food vendor ordinance and was met by a split 4-4 council vote.
By Mayoral tie breaker, the amendment was tabled with the possibility of being brought back for consideration in the future by the mayor or the Health and Safety Committee.
Burgener motioned for the item to be tabled, citing discrepancies in the language of the ordinance.
“This needs to go back and be cleaned up a little bit, I can’t vote for this as written.”