Parking ordinance rears its ugly head again

TONASKET – It’s the issue that just won’t go away for the Tonasket City Council.
After a period of peace after several months of wrangling over the city’s parking ordinance, the issue was again front and center during the public comment portion of the Tuesday, July 24, city council meeting.
And, not surprisingly, it involved parking on South Tonasket Avenue, albeit not the same block where the limited parking for residents had sparked so much discussion over the winter.
The Tonasket Assembly of God Church, located at the corner of S. Tonasket and Fourth St., had recently been asked by police to eliminate a long-held practice of parking perpendicular to the street on S. Tonasket. With a two-inch high curb and few parking options, up to five or six cars have parked over the curb and onto the sidewalk that abuts the church, adding at least four parking spots to what would be just two if cars parked in parallel fashion.
“We have been parking perpendicular there for many years,” said Rev. Raul Martinez, who was joined by more than half a dozen people from his church. “We were told that we’re not supposed to any more. We were directed to parallel park, but that eliminates four or five parking spaces.
“We were hoping to modify that. Maybe if we back in (to improve safety), it would help a lot. We need the parking.”
Mayor Patrick Plumb noted that thanks to some unique parking situations, such as that at the church, and inconsistent enforcement over the years, there have been a number of issues brought to light during the process of revising the city’s parking ordinance.
“We don’t want to hamper anyone’s worship,” he said. “There are some things that haven’t changed for years. Some people notice if other people don’t have to (comply to the ordinance) and ask, ‘If they don’t have to, why do we?’”
Adding to the confusion is that diagonal parking is permitted in front of the church on Fourth St., as it is a wider road with a standard curb. Also, Shannon’s Deli on Whitcomb at the south end of town has been asked to disallow diagonal parking in front of the restaurant, though parking on a state highway carries more stringent requirements.
Otherwise, said city attorney Mick Howe, “It’s up to the city to determine what is safe.”
“If we park the way we’re allowed,” said Randall Newton, both a neighbor and member of the church, “it actually crowds the street more (than what has been done in the past).”
“Safety is important to us,” Martinez said. “We just fenced in the back yard to help keep our kids away from the street, so we’re doing our best.”
Plumb assured Martinez that the ordinance wasn’t targeting the church, or any one else specifically.
“It’s not just you,” he said. “We’re more than happy to take suggestions and work together. I want to kick this back to the streets committee, and I’d like you to be part of that conversation.”

Speaking of street ordinances…

The council also discussed the possibility of allowing ATV traffic on city streets.
Howe said that he wrote ordinance for Conconully that allows ATVs and snowmobiles there.
“We adopted an ordinance there that allowed ATVs and snowmobiles within the city,” he said. “That’s been very, very popular. It’s done a lot for Conconully.
“There’s a lot of violations. There’s a lot of complaints. There’s a lot of abuse. Not by the local people; they respect it. But it brings the tourists in and they go ‘Yahoo! We can do whatever we want. One example is last New Year’s at midnight, a group of people rode through town naked at 80 miles per hour…. That really jeopardizes the ordinance.”
After some discussion about ways to legally cover the practice of using ATVs to clear snow off the sidewalks (which is technically an ordinance violation, but which hasn’t been enforced), council member Scott Olson expressed his concern about the thought of general ATV use in town.
“I’m not excited about it,” Olson said. “I want to hear more about violations and complaints, and if it’s dangerous.”
Howe said that Conconully’s status as nearly a purely recreational town, as well as its access to ATV and snowmobile trails, made it different than Tonasket.
“There’s a huge difference between having it in Conconully and having it in Omak, Okanogan or Tonasket,” he said. “Would it bring much to the town? Probably not much… the potential liability, there’s no (noise) restrictions, running around in the neighborhoods at 10, 11, 12:00. I’m not in favor of it… And I’m an avid ATV-er.
“(On the other hand) you could probably learn some things from communities in Idaho. They are legal on the streets there, and the cops do keep a handle on it.”
Plumb said that he’d thought there would be a more positive outlook on the possibility of increasing recreational traffic in town, and pointed out that Police Chief Rob Burks had floated the idea of using ATVs for patrols during events such as Founders Day, when crowds were large and street access limited.
“Maybe we could write something up for specific things,” Olson said. “I’d rather do something like that, maybe than fully opening things up.”
No action was taken.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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