LACONIA — "It's been on the agenda for five years or more," said City Councilor Armand Bolduc (Ward 6) of his request that the council take steps to prohibit motorists from parking on sublawns, the grassed strips between the roadway and sidewalk.
For years the issue has languished on the Public Works Committee agenda, which Bolduc chairs. "It's stayed there, and stayed there and stayed there," Bolduc remarked. He added that the committee's agenda has also long included his requests that it consider an ordinance regulating the parking of "large vehicles" on city streets and sidewalks and prohibiting vehicles weighing nine tons or more from idling on city streets between midnight and 6 a.m.
The issue of parking on sublawns arose when the City Council met this week. Charlie St. Clair, who lives on Messer Street, complained that parked cars ruined the grass in front of his home. Councilors returned to the issue, along with the others on the agenda of the Public Works Committee as the meeting neared its close.
The council concluded that all three issues were outside the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Works and, with Bolduc dissenting, and struck them from the agenda of the Public Works Committee and referred them to the Government Operations and Ordinances Committee, chaired by Councilor Ava Doyle (Ward 1) and including councilors Bolduc and David Bownes (Ward 2).
"I hope we'll take the bull by the horns and deal with it," Bolduc said. He said that the city has gone to expense to curb streets, build sidewalks and seed sublawns, yet "people are jumping the curbs and parking half on the grass and half on the sidewalks. Within a week the grass is gone and the sublawn has turned to mud."
Police Chief Chris Adams said that while there is a state law (RSA 265:69) prohibiting parking on sidewalks, which the police enforce, there is neither a state statute nor a city ordinance that explicitly forbids parking on sublawns.
However, there is a state statute (RSA 265:71) that specifies that where there are curbs, vehicles "shall" be stopped or parked with the right-hand wheels parallel to the right-hand curb and "where there are no curbs said vehicle shall be so stopped or parked with (its) right-hand wheels parallel to the right-hand side of the traveled portion of the way."
The City Council could enact an ordinance dealing specifically with sublawns. RSA 265:70 prescribes that state parking regulations "shall not supersede the provisions of any local ordinance which has been adopted to regulate parking in restricted areas in the compact part of any city or town."
City Manager Scott Myers expressed reservations about enacting and enforcing an ordinance. He said that where there is a defined curb, sublawn and sidewalk, police are expected to ticket motorists who have jumped the curb and parked on the sublawn. But, he said that there are many streets without a defined curb, where the boundaries between the roadway, sublawn and sidewalk are obscure. Enforcement in these circumstances, Myers acknowledged, is not a high priority for the police.
Furthermore, Myers explained that a significant share of the city's population live in multi-famility dwellings, many without sufficient off-street parking for all tenants. Tighter restrictions, especially on narrow streets without defined curbing, he suggested would add to the scarcity of parking in some neighborhoods.
At the same time, Myers emphasized that as streets are improved with defined granite curbing the prohibition against climbing the curb will be enforced. He noted that the city has applied for a grant from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation to improve pedestrian access to schools. About 1,000 feet of sidewalk along Opechee Street would be improved at a cost of $50,000 to provide a safe passage between Messer Street and Laconia Middle School. The sidewalks along 600 feet of Stevens Street and 1,200 feet of Winter Street leading to Woodland Heights School would be improved with curbing and sublawns and a speed table to slow traffic would be installed near the school.
The Government Operations and Ordinances Committee has not yet scheduled a meeting to address the issue of parking on sublawns.
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