Town, residents spar over parking

Restrictions proposed to aid emergency vehicles


December 11, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Attempting to ensure that emergency vehicles can get to fire scenes on narrow roads, Hampstead officials are trying to strike a balance between public safety and parking convenience for residents.

To make the narrower town roads more accessible to fire engines and snowplows, the town has proposed limiting parking to one side of four streets.

"This is a tough balancing act on an issue that broaches public safety for people who have been able to park on the street for as long as they have owned their homes," said Mayor Haven N. Shoemaker Jr. "We are asking them to make a radical change."

The town's volunteer fire department is concerned with several streets that are less than 30 feet wide, with parking on both sides taking up as much as 14 feet. "Sometimes, we feel we are running down a one-lane road," said Fire Chief Bryan Ruby, who lives on one of the roads that would be affected by the restriction.

Many homes have multiple vehicles that fill their garages and driveways, and then take spots along the road. In some townhouse subdivisions, the second car squeezed into a one-car driveway protrudes into the road.

"Our neighborhoods are growing up, and we have a lot more drivers," Councilman Wayne Thomas said. "I know of four neighboring houses with 14 cars among them. Talk about parking problems."

Several residents said the policy would limit their ability to park in the street near their homes. "This should be left up to homeowners associations," Gary Webster of Dakota Road said at the public hearing Tuesday. "Nobody wants this. I don't want my neighbor's car parked in front of my house."

Others, including Thomas Cohick of Brittany Lane, said the fire equipment is too large. "I was blindsided by this request to accommodate a fire truck that needs 14 feet to operate."

The trucks are the standard 8 feet wide, said Ruby. Opening the side doors adds 4 feet. Most cars are about 7 feet wide and are frequently not parked close to the curb, he said. Firefighters also need room for large hoses.

None of the roads targeted for parking limitations - Burnside Drive, Upper Forde Lane, Dakota Road and Brittany Lane - is wider than 29 feet.

"Our main concern is with the safety of life and property," said Ruby. "What are we supposed to do when we can't get down the street? "

Ruby, a lifelong town resident, said training exercises and fire calls have shown that the width of streets can be an issue. In one exercise, he said, a firetruck could not get down a road until a resident came out to move a car. In another, firefighters did not have enough room on the street to open the doors of their truck, he said.

During a fire call to a townhouse about two years ago, parked cars forced firefighters to stop across the street and drag the hoses across the road, a median and up the driveway to the residence. Fortunately, Ruby said, the incident didn't end badly even though the hose didn't reach the house.

In a letter to about 155 residents of the affected streets, Shoemaker had announced that a public hearing would be held on the issue and provided details of the proposal. The letter gave the wrong date for the hearing, and several residents waited nearly an hour at Town Hall on Monday.

The error might have contributed to the strident tone of the hearing, said Ken Decker, town manager. A few residents sparred with council members, and one constantly interrupted them.

Ruby said he finds the controversy baffling.

"If nothing changes, we will still come out and provide people here with the best services possible," he said. "But we are trying to make things better for everybody, and all they are talking about is parking."

The council scheduled another hearing on Jan. 13. Shoemaker wants to meet further with the fire company before the next hearing.

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