Marquette attorney: City’s riverfront parking area for just residents could violate the law

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A parking area on Marquette’s riverfront that’s restricted to resident use only, with a permit, could be in violation of federal and state law, according to the city’s attorney, Dan Key.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

A parking area on Marquette’s riverfront that’s restricted to resident use only, with a permit, could be in violation of federal and state law, according to the city’s attorney, Dan Key.

Key, speaking at the city council’s regular meeting Oct. 18, cited two clauses the ordinance may violate: the privilege and immunity clause, which prevents a state from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory matter; and the equal protection clause, which provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws.

A U.S. Supreme Court case, Saenz vs. Roe, discusses the constitutional right to travel from state to state, Key added. It also relates to the parking issue, he said, in that the ruling says people have the right to be treated like any resident as they travel from state to state.

The city ordinance in question currently restricts parking in the north riverfront lot (in front of the fishing pier) to only residents who were issued a permit from city hall, without a fee, upon written application and proof of residency. Violators are subject to a $250 fine.

It was created, said resident Jason Winter, who was on the council at the time, to benefit residents because taxpayer money was used to pave the parking area. The area was also meant to aid residents who complained of going to the riverfront on busy weekends and being unable to find a place to park, he said. 

The rest of the riverfront parking is free and open to the public.

The issue with the ordinance came up at the council’s August meeting, during a discussion about a non-resident’s complaint about receiving a $250 fine for parking in the restricted area.

Key said there are instances of resident favoritism, such as out-of-state residents paying higher college tuition and out-of-state residents paying more for hunting and fishing licenses.

The theory behind that, Key noted, is that “in-state residents have paid their dues, they’ve paid their taxes and made a contribution.”

Then again, Key continued, “if someone from out of state goes to a public hospital, you can’t charge them extra. You can’t preferentially hire [in-state residents] and you can’t impose higher fines or forfeitures for non-residents.”

Key said the parking restriction would be easier to get away with if it was restricted for a governmental entity, law enforcement or emergency personnel.

“You just can’t pick and choose,” Key said. “You can’t put up a sign only for residents of Marquette.”

One way around future issues, Key explained, would be to designate a restricted area, then charge Marquette residents a small fee for a permit, while non-residents could get a permit at a higher cost.

The city could also choose to leave the situation as it is.

“Is anyone going to make an issue? Probably not,” Key stated. “But I can’t say someone down the line won’t make a stink about it. You could be sued. There’s nothing that says exclusively that you can do this.”

The council chose not to take any action on the issue, to discuss it further at a future meeting. 

Councilwoman Pam Brodie-Fitzgerald wondered if it might be prudent, moving forward, to look at the signage posted at the restricted parking area.

“The main problem is that everyone who’s gotten a ticket said they went there at night,” she said. “Is there any way we can light the sign?”

Casino sale

Mayor Larry Breuer addressed the recent sale of Lady Luck Marquette to CQ Holdings Company, based in Swansea, Ill.

CQ Holdings is the parent company of the Casino Queen casino in East St. Louis, Ill. 

“Their operations are set up like Hy-Vee,” he said, in that they’re employee-owned. “It makes a better operation.”

The sale will close in early fiscal year 2018, per the approval of the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission, the Illinois Gaming Control Board and customary closing conditions. Breuer said the new owners have assured all casino employees will retain their jobs.

“I’m looking forward to the new owners,” Breuer added. “I think it’s going to be good for Marquette.”

Evans agreement

Brodie-Fitzgerald noted that, as of the council meeting, property owner Dave Evans, who has a mobile home on his property in the Timber Ridge Subdivision until completion of his home, had not turned in final construction plans and a date for removal of the mobile home.

The mobile home resides on the property against city zoning, a situation that caused controversy at the beginning of the year. Several months ago, Evans entered into an agreement with the city that says the city agrees not to enforce its laws as long as the permanent structure is completed by Nov. 1, 2016.

If the permanent structure (his home) is not completed by that date, Key said Evans could be granted an extension until March 1, 2017, upon presentation of a viable construction plan to the city council detailing the nature of any unfinished construction and how it will be completed by the extended deadline.

As of press time Tuesday morning, city manager Denise Schneider said Evans and his lawyer had begun to submit the necessary paperwork.

Display cases purchase

The council approved the purchase of 10, 4-foot stackable glass display cases for $2,000. Two of the cases, which come from a jewelry store, will be used at the Driftless Area Wetlands Centre, while the others will display the city’s collection of Emma Big Bear baskets in the hallway outside the community center.

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