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Council looks to alleviate neighborhood parking pressures

January 6, 2019

As Rochester parking pressures grow, the Kutzky Park neighborhood has been feeling a pinch.

Emily Lynch, president of the Kutzky Park Neighborhood Association, said neighbors are voicing increased complaints about property owners who appear to be renting backyard parking spaces.

“It’s a major concern in the neighborhood,” she said, noting key concerns are increased alley traffic and drainage issues related to backyards that have been paved.

On Monday during its committee of the whole meeting, the Rochester City Council is slated to discuss the issue, revisiting an April conversation on the issue.

“I think if this happened in the wealthier neighborhoods, we’d never hear the end of it,” Council Member Michael Wojcik, who represents the ward that includes the neighborhood, said during the earlier discussion. He urged fellow council members to take action.

City ordinance states parking spaces on residential properties are for the exclusive use of residents and their guests.

Ben Griffith, director of the Rochester-Olmsted Consolidated Planning Department, said enforcement can be difficult.

“Short of yanking people out of the street and interrogating them, it’s hard to say (whether they are a resident or guest),” he said.

Lynch said some neighbors have done just that, asking parkers whether they paid for the spot or are merely visiting.

“People are pretty honest about it,” she said, noting many people who rent the space don’t realize it violates city ordinance.

In April, council members noted extra staff time would be required to monitor suspected rental spaces, but suggested an administrative fine combined with education and periodic checks could reduce infractions.

“A little bit of random enforcement will go a long way,” Wojcik said.

Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos said fines could be an option.

“It’s just a matter of how we would do it,” he said, noting it could be difficult to prove a violation exists under the current ordinance.

Griffith said that of about 25 complaints in recent history, two involved violations of zoning rules regarding paving. In both cases, he said, the property owners made required changes to conform to that part of city regulations.

Whether they are renting the spaces to non-residents would be more difficult to determine, he said.

Griffith and Lynch acknowledged parking pressure has increased in the area, which includes many streets with restricted parking throughout the day.

Lynch said that pressure is one of the reasons the neighborhood association chose not to oppose an extension for the Second Street Southwest parking lot currently owned by Oronoco developer and Wisconsin hospital administrator Javon Bea. She said closing the lot without development plans would have increased pressures.

“Those are people who drive there every day and pay to park,” she said.

When it comes to backyard parking, city staff is suggesting potential changes to restrict the number of parking spaces as a step toward addressing concerns.

In April, not all council members were convinced a problem existed. Ed Hruska and Mark Hickey, who have both left the council, questioned whether action was needed.

“I don’t see it as a big problem,” Hruska said. “It’s private property. They are doing what they want with the property.”

Wojcik, however, noted it’s impacting others in the neighborhood and potentially creating incentives for investors to purchase affordable single-family homes to turn them into rental units with rented parking spaces.

Griffith said only nine of 29 letters sent to property owners to address similar parking concerns were for homes occupied by the owners. Seventeen properties had active rental certificates and three fell into an unknown category.

Council Member President Randy Staver said in April he was open to considering recommendations from staff.

“What I’m looking for is a realistic, pragmatic approach,” he said.

With Monday’s discussion, Patrick Keane and Shaun Palmer will replace Hruska and Hickey on the council. Additionally, Kim Norton will take her seat as Rochester’s new mayor.

The committee of the whole meeting at 3:30 p.m. Monday also marks the transition to hold the weekly meetings in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, which makes way for video recording of the informational meetings.

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