No more resident-only parking area on the Marquette riverfront

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By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

A riverfront parking perk for Marquette residents will soon be a thing of the past because, according to the city’s attorney, it could violate several laws.

A city ordinance 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.

The 11 parking stalls, said mayor Larry Breuer at the city’s March 14 council meeting, have become a source of contention since last summer, when a tourist complained about receiving a ticket for parking in the restricted area.

The complaint prompted city attorney Dan Key to analyze the ordinance, and he found it could violate several laws.

“You have to treat everyone the same. You can’t discriminate,” Key said. “The city has no compelling reason to offer spots to residents cost-free.”

Former mayor Norma Mason, who was in office when the city created the ordinance, attended last week’s meeting.  She said the city chose to designate the restricted parking area because residents often complained of having nowhere to park on the riverfront.

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

“We thought it would give a little benefit to the residents,” she said, adding that the council did so with the understanding that the law gave cities the right to designate parking. “It worked for six years, but I guess it doesn’t work anymore.”

“It may work for the next 100, if no one sues you,” Key replied. “I don’t think you can get away with ‘it’s free for you, but costs everybody else.’ I think you’re just asking for trouble.”

“The whole world thinks, because you have a river boat casino here in town, that you have a whole bunch of money,” he added. “They might go after you.”

To avoid issues, Key said the city should consider charging residents for a permit, then charge non-residents a higher fee. It would be comparative to out-of-state hunting licenses or college tuition, he said, in which non-residents pay more than residents.

Resident Brian Lessard spoke at the meeting, citing concerns for the city’s older citizens, who he said rely on those parking spaces.

“Then they can get a permit,” responded Breuer.

The problem, Lessard said, is that everyone else will be there too: “When there’s a bass tournament, they hog it all. Should we go down there the night before and park our vehicles?”

“It’s not like people have nowhere else to park,” Key stated. “They just want to have better access.”

Mar-Mac Police Chief Jason Bogdonovich said, when patrolling, he often found the special lot was not full. The “permit parking only” sign usually deterred people, he noted.

Councilman John Ries predicts that will not change, as people will be unwilling to pay for a permit.

“I think the 11 primest spots will go unused,” he said.

The council proposed requiring residents to pay $10 and non-residents $50, for a permit to park in that area. A fine for parking without a permit will be lowered from $250 to $100. There will also be a 24-hour parking limit.

A new parking ordinance will be considered at the next council meeting, which was re-scheduled to Tuesday, April 18.

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