Haverhill leaders debate winter parking proposal  

File photoBecause cars parked on the side of roads can cause problems for plow operators, Haverhill leaders are discussing letting residents who don't have driveways park in the downtown train station and school lots.

It's a problem Haverhill wrestles with each winter.

Many residents of the inner city, including downtown, lack driveways or other parking areas for their cars, so they park on the street.

When the snow flies, that can be a problem, especially during storms that require plowing. Snow pushed to the side of roads can take away parking spaces or make it difficult for drivers to pull in and out. During big storms that cause the city to declare a snow emergency, roadside parking on some main streets is banned.

City Councilor Joseph Bevilacqua said he has a possible solution: Consider letting those inner-city residents use the downtown train station parking lot and lots at schools for overnight parking when it snows.

Bevilaqua, who presented his idea at recent City Council meeting, asked the group to send a letter about the issue to Mayor James Fiorentini. The letter asks that Fiorentini inquire about the proposal with the School Department and the MBTA. Bevilacqua noted the mayor is also chairman of the School Committee, which would allow him to easily get reaction from school officials.

The parking proposal is causing debate among councilors.

Bevilacqua said that during winter snowstorms, many inner-city residents struggle to find places to park their vehicles because streets can be clogged with snow. In addition, when snow emergencies are declared during during big storms, parking is banned on many downtown streets so plows can operate without parked cars in the way. Bevilacqua said the issue is made worse by the city allowing an increase in apartment developments downtown without ample off-street parking.

Bevilacqua said many residents using the lots for overnight parking would likely move their vehicles early in the day, lessening the possibility of interfering with the lots' normal uses.

"Many of them would be leaving early in the morning to go to work," he said.

Allowing residents to use the lots for overnight parking would help even with lighter snowfall, Bevilacqua said. When snow forces plowing but is not heavy enough for a snow emergency to be declared, cars are allowed to remain parked on streets overnight. Encouraging inner-city residents to instead use the parking lots would make streets more passable for plows, Bevilacqua said.

"What it ... would do is allow the city to better plow the streets,'' he said.

Other councilors questioned how snow would be cleared from the lots if vehicles were parked there overnight, what time limits would have to be imposed and how they would be enforced.

Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O'Brien said the idea could result in police having to issue parking tickets to drivers who leave their vehicles in school lots too long, interfering with snow removal.

"Using the school lots is a great idea, but we need to set a time for people to get out," Daly O'Brien said.

Councilor Timothy Jordan said allowing residents to park in school lots would create problems for plow operators.

"Plowing can be going on throughout the night and if there are lots of cars in there, it's going to make it very difficult for them to do their job," he said about plow drivers. "I could not support this until I know the (school) superintendent is on board with that aspect of it."

Superintendent Margaret Marotta said she agrees with Jordan's concerns.

"Plowing would need to occur before teachers could then park and buses can drop off kids," Marotta said. "This (residents parking in the lots) would almost certainly negatively impact the schools in their ability to clear the lots and open in a timely manner any time there is a snow emergency declared."

Even worse, Marotta said, the inability to clear snow from school lots relatively quickly could create another problem — schools having to declare snow days when lots are not plowed in time for the planned start of the school day.

"This would almost certainly result in a significant increase in the number of snow days each year," she said. While I understand the need and want for public parking during snow emergencies, I would urge the council to seek other alternatives. Our students have missed enough school."Council President Melinda Barrett reminded her fellow councilors that during a recent snowstorm, the city issued a robo-call asking residents not to park in school lots because they needed to be cleared of snow.

"There seems like there's something missing here," she said of the proposal to use the lots for residents' parking.

Councilor William Macek called Bevilacqua's suggestions "well-intentioned ideas" and said he supports Bevilacqua for trying to find places where inner-city residents who have no driveways can park. Macek said, however, that he cannot support using the school lots or the MBTA train station lot.

He said the MBTA has opposed past attempts to let residents park in the train station lot.

"I have some historic knowledge that the MBTA has no taste for allowing the city to use their parking lot," Macek said, noting the MBTA has police that check vehicles to ensure their drivers have paid for parking. "I don't know how this (Bevilacqua's proposal) would work and I'd need more information before I supported it."

After the meeting, Bevilacqua said he was looking to designate certain areas of school lots and the MBTA lot for off-street parking, and to designate time limits for vehicles left in the lots. He said he'd be open to alternatives.

The council voted to refer Bevilacqua's request to the mayor.

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