Ottawa University has a parking problem.
OU administrators, Ottawa police and city officials and residents for years have acknowledged problems with motorists blocking driveways and parking too close to fire hydrants and stop signs in neighborhoods adjacent to the campus, 1001 S. Cedar St.
Vance Carey, who has resided in the 800 block of South Mulberry Street for the past 24 years near the OU campus, told Ottawa city commissioners Wednesday night the parking problem has escalated.
“It the last three or four years, parking has gotten terrible,” Carey said. “The street is not wide enough to get two cars down there. We’ve had some elderly couples [who have lived in the neighborhood], and ambulances have had a hard time driving down the street. The students take up half the block, and their cars might sit there for three or four days and not move.”
Shawn Dickinson, city commissioner, who also lives in the area, said he has seen motorists block fire hydrants and sidewalks and park too close to stop signs on a regular basis.
Carey said he would be in favor of abolishing parking on the street in that block or establishing permit parking to alleviate the problem.
Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, was not willing to go so far as to eliminate parking on the street, he said, because he has found through experience that when parking is eliminated, the problems simply resurface in other locations.
“If you completely eliminate parking in an area because of an issue like this you just push it further out and then it affects other residents,” Butler said.
The police chief instead offered an ordinance that would restrict parking next to stop signs and fire hydrants. That plan was endorsed by city commissioners Wednesday night when they voted 5-0 to restrict parking along certain stretches of South Oak, South Poplar and South Mulberry streets, between Eighth and Ninth streets. Ninth Street defines the northern boundary of the OU campus.
For several years, the Ottawa Police Department has received complaint calls from residents about parked vehicles blocking driveways, sidewalks and fire hydrants on South Oak, South Poplar and South Mulberry streets adjacent to the campus, Butler said.
It is illegal to park within 30 feet of a stop sign and 15 feet of a fire hydrant anywhere in the city, Butler said. Violations have been higher in the neighborhoods around the campus than other areas of the community, he said. A parking ticket is accompanied with a fine.
“It’s a $25 fine, and that’s standard for that violation,” Butler said. “It’s not a new amount for this [ordinance].”
Richard Niendstedt, city manager, and Butler said city and police officials had taken great efforts to educate the public about lawful parking in neighborhoods around the Ottawa University campus for several years. But those efforts had failed to yield lasting results, they said. Butler called the ordinance a “last resort” measure to alleviate the parking problems on those streets.
Ottawa University officials have worked with the city to try to address parking concerns on neighboring streets, Nienstedt and Butler said.
The university added a 41-space parking lot on its campus, just south of Ninth Street, before the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Butler said the additional lot helped some, but parking problems persist in the adjoining neighborhoods.
Signs alerting motorists to the no parking zones should be posted soon, city officials said. The police department plans to distribute flyers to residents in the neighborhoods to alert them to the parking changes, and the department will notify OU administrators about the ordinance and ask the university to pass that information along to students, Butler said.