Soccer parents beware: Motorists who ignore the no parking signs on South Elm Street, adjacent to the Franklin County Fairgrounds, now run the risk of receiving a parking ticket, city officials said.

The Ottawa City Commission voted 5-0 Wednesday morning to pass an ordinance that authorizes the police department to issue parking tickets to violators. The no parking signs are posted on the east and west sides of South Elm Street, between 17th and 19th streets.

“Various city staff members had received complaints from a resident that lives in this area about Saturday morning parking congestion on Elm Street,” Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, told commissioners. “Staff went by and looked at the situation and noticed that there were soccer games behind held on the fairgrounds on Saturday mornings, and there were a large number of vehicles being parked along Elm Street — mostly on the east side, which is the fairgrounds side, but also on the west side.”

City officials are not sure when or who posted the no parking signs on both sides of the street, Butler said, though the signs apparently were installed a number of years ago.

“What we learned as we reviewed the situation was that no corresponding city ordinance had ever been enacted to allow enforcement of those no parking signs, so they were technically unenforceable,” Butler said.

Butler recommended the city commission pass the ordinance to authorize parking tickets to be issued.   

“I believe, based on our review, that with the number of cars there and small children and other people in the area, it was a hazard,” Butler said.

The chief drove down the street on a recent Saturday morning to observe the congestion firsthand, he said. Butler told commissioners his primary concern was the potential for a child to be hit by oncoming vehicles.

“... As I drove through there I was anticipating a child walking out from between the cars into the roadway, or — and I saw this — a door swinging open from a parked car and creating a hazard, especially if there was oncoming traffic,” Butler said. “So there was definitely a hazard there, with what I saw.”

When asked by Sara Caylor, mayor, about available parking with the elimination of cars along that stretch of Elm Street, Butler said the Ottawa Recreation Commission had informed him that it had notified parents parking was available at the fairgrounds.

“Very few are choosing to do that,” Butler said of the fairgrounds parking option.

Butler told commissioners the ORC had informed him the soccer games at the fairgrounds were temporary, though this is the second year for games at the grounds, while other soccer fields were being rehabilitated for future use.

“The [soccer] season is almost over — I think there’s only one or two weeks left, so the situation for Saturday mornings should solve itself here soon,” Butler said. “But, again, the signs are there and there’s going to be future events, whether it be ORC or others. In my opinion, I believe it would be best to authorize language to allow us to enforce [the no parking signs].”

Parking also would be prohibited on the grassy area between the street and the utility poles on the fairgrounds side of the road because that is a public right-of-way, the chief said.

If the commission voted to approve the ordinance, Butler said before the vote, the police department had prepared a courtesy notice to be distributed to residents in the neighborhood and area businesses to inform people about the change so they would not be caught by surprise and receive a ticket. Enforcement of the no parking ordinance would begin Oct. 26, he said.

“Also on Saturday, we have volunteers that will go to the soccer games a couple of times, because they have more than one game, and distribute the courtesy notice to those in attendance,” Butler said. “There will be a one week grace period and enforcement of any violations will begin on Oct. 26. We’re trying to give as much notice as we can.”

Copies of the courtesy notice also will be sent to the Ottawa Recreation Commission and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office to help disseminate the information, Butler said.

“Out of courtesy, we ought to also notify the fair board, so they can also help spread the word come July, because that is going to be a change for people [attending the county fair],” Linda Reed, city commissioner, said.

The information also will be posted on the city’s Facebook page and website, Caylor said.

“This really is a safety issue,” Blake Jorgensen, city commissioner, said. “The last thing we need is for a child to run out between cars and get run over by a car going down the street there. Clearly something is needed in the area.”

Jorgensen told Butler he was glad the department planned to distribute the courtesy notice and to provide a one week grace period while the word gets out about the enforcement changes.

“I commend you for taking the approach that you’re doing to inform people of the changes so they are not caught off guard,” Jorgensen told the chief.

Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, also commended Butler for the department’s efforts to communicate the change to residents and said he was in favor of the proposed ordinance.

“I think it’s better to be proactive than to respond to an accident,” Skidmore said.