Borough Council Approves Plan For Parking Permit Pilot Program In Highlands Neighborhood
Penn State students showed out in full force at Monday’s Borough Council meeting to oppose enforcing a ban on overnight parking in the borough during event weekends — but to no avail. Council approved a plan 7-2 that will move staff forward with a temporary on-street parking pilot program only in the Highlands neighborhood.
Council has spent its past few meetings largely discussing overnight parking, but the original proposal from the Highlands Civic Association was presented about a year ago. Although it is codified that many streets and areas of the borough ban parking between 2 and 6 a.m., these restrictions have traditionally been relaxed for special events like home football weekends and Arts Fest. That will likely no longer be the case if this pilot program is successful.
State College Parking Manager Rick Ward presented the proposal that staff prepared this week at the request of Council after a straw vote at last week’s work session. Here are the highlights from an extremely hard-to-read PowerPoint:
Who’s Eligible for Permits
- residents similar to the current residential parking program, for all streets with the 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. no parking restriction
- must provide address verification through tax records or current copy of lease
- one permit registration per address, regardless of how many individuals live at that dress
- single-family home = one permit
- four-person apartment = one permit
- 50-person fraternity house = one permit
- no one who lives within this downtown area:
How Much Permits Cost
- residential permit (good for calendar year) — $10
- temporary permit registration (once per calendar year) — $24
- temporary permit usage (permits 1-24) — included in registration
- temporary permit usage (permits 25-60) — $5 each
- temporary special event permit — $10 each
“If you allowed a large number of free permits, it kind of defeats the purpose of having any kind of overnight restrictions,” Ward said. If the numbers 24 and 60 seem arbitrary, it’s probably because they are. Isn’t bureaucracy charming?
Other Important Logistics
- complete registration by providing documentation online, via mail, or in person
- registered account holder may use temporary permit on vehicle of their choice, but must enter license plate info (used for enforcement)
- temporary permits can’t be purchased more than 7 days in advance
- temporary permit valid for one vehicle over a 24-hour period
- permits can be used for a consecutive period of time not to exceed 7 days
- permits can’t be resold or advertised (subject to a citation and a fine)
- borough must install signage on all no parking 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. streets
Special Event Weekends & ‘Blackout Dates’
HOWEVER, the permits as described above cannot be used during special event weekends and blackout dates, including home football weekends and Arts Fest. For these weekends:
- registered residents can purchase special event overnight permits at $10 per day
- spaces not reserved; vehicles parked in violation of state laws would still be issued violations
- no permits available during blackout periods like snow emergencies, road closures for construction, maintenance, etc.
- permit holders notified of blackout dates via email
Borough Staff estimates this program could bring in $75,000 to $100,000 in revenue, but most of this will go to increased staffing and informational technology costs. Each permit will cost about $1 and the Borough will also need to fund a one-time cost for updating the 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. signage at approximately $18 per sign. They aren’t sure right now how many signs there are. The plan also includes an option to survey residents on what they’d like to do about overnight parking with an approximate cost of $1,200 mostly in mailings.
Potential issues identified by Borough staff:
- Are there accommodations for residents who are not able or unwilling to apply through a computer?
- What are the metrics used to determine the success of the program?
- It is unknown how many spaces we have available, thus unknown when we may have to restrict access due to the overselling of permits.
- Are there accommodations for large events at private residents and what, if any, are they?
“We will have to answer a lot of questions about this program if it’s adopted, and we need staff to be prepared to do that,” Ward added.
Notably, the proposal also does not allow any lawn parking at any time for any borough residents.
Councilwoman Cathy Dauler moved to approve the proposal as outlined, and Council President Evan Myers was quick to voice his opposition to approving the proposal. Myers added that, if anything, the pilot program should be restricted to only the Highlands neighborhood, where the original proposal to change current practice originated.
“Why have we been asked [to consider] this? Because of safety. Safety between 2 and 6 a.m.? I’m not sure what the issue is…” Myers said. “I’ve also heard quality of life. I’m not sure what that means.”
Councilman Dan Murphy emphasized members of Borough Council received the full proposal only about 15 minutes before Monday’s meeting after a week of staff preparation, despite the Transportation Commission spending months to collect data and provide a report on the matter. He urged Council to spend more time to consider the potential impacts of the decision before voting.
“It is no big deal, and it doesn’t warrant all the overreaction and exaggeration and distortion of what we’re trying to do,” Councilman David Brown said, explaining he could “live with” a pilot program only to be done in the Highlands neighborhood, but calling the discussion surround the issue “melodramatic.”
A total of 18 individuals spoke against the proposal, including new student Borough Council representative Tom Dougherty, Student Body President Cody Heaton, Interfraternity Council President John Lord, and Brent Rice, who started a petition Sunday night to organize opposition to the proposal.
“We could tear [our lawn] up and put up an impervious surface, but I don’t really think you want people to do that, putting in additional gravel or asphalt areas just because they need to find additional parking,” a fraternity advisor said, adding that allowing apartments to register for permits based on the individual units is discriminatory against fraternities, which may have 50 or 60 brothers living in one house.
Many of those who spoke brought up the issue of drunk driving if those parked in the Borough would be required to move their cars at 2 a.m., but Highlands resident David Stone refuted this and said data shows there would be no increase in drunk driving. Another resident brought up the cost of living downtown and his issues with adding this type of permit on top of an already-expensive mortgage or rent rate.
“The more and more things that I see come before council and be discussed like this, it makes me not want to come back. It makes me not want to live here,” former student Borough Council representative Morgan Goranson said. “There’s been times where some of the discussion that happens in this building is some of the most disheartening…”
Outgoing Graduate and Professional Student Association President Matt Krott echoed similar sentiments, describing his own response just minutes before that “it doesn’t matter” when someone asked if he was going to speak at the meeting. “I hope that I’m wrong, and maybe that was overly-cynical of me,” Krott said.
Only one Highlands resident presented at this meeting in favor of the full proposal, and another resident spoke in favor of the proposal with the amendment limiting the pilot program to the Highlands neighborhood. “I think presenting this as anti-student is a divisive narrative,” longtime resident Eric White said. Other Highlands residents and Civic Association members have spoken at previous meetings discussing the same topic.
Members of council brought up anecdotes of their friends and neighbors having their driveways parked in, but Myers said these issues aren’t exclusive to overnight parking.
An original amendment to pilot the program in only the Highlands neighborhood failed 3-4, but after a five-minute recess that truly saved us all, a reconsideration passed 4-3.
It wouldn’t be a Borough Council meeting without a good old fashioned public rant. Councilwoman Theresa Lafer berated those who spoke (mostly students) about their attitudes and that they had the audacity to create a petition about overnight parking.
“How many of you are really gonna use your parking permit — $10 — 60 times in one year? Are you inviting your whole hometown to every game?” she asked rhetorically, adding many of the arguments against the proposal that she heard were either lazy, misinformed, or both. “I do not think this was a good argument and a good place to put this much effort.”
The proposal as amended passed 5-2, with Myers and Murphy in opposition. Staff will now move forward with codifying the program as outlined above into an ordinance, which would then require Council approval. The program would likely take effect October 1.
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