By Anna Lothson
Over-regulated, under-regulated, inconsistent, too many signs, too many restrictions, too few restrictions: The never-ending parking debate in Oak Park periodically resurfaces as a hot-button topic.
Now one of our most contentious issues — the village's overnight parking ban — may be back on the table soon.
The subject was addressed at the end of the Sept. 3 village board meeting, merely as a discussion, but the board directed staff to review options that could include abolishing the decades-old overnight ban, changing the requirements, providing easier access to guest permits or simply leaving it as it is.
No board member took a stance on a specific direction, but many expressed wanting to explore what can be done to address the complaints about overnight parking restrictions.
The issue was brought to the board at the request of Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, who said he's heard from many frustrated residents who complain about where visitors can park, the time it takes to get a pass and the limited number of passes available per resident.
Trustee Ray Johnson said that, as Oak Park explores how to handle any possible changes, it's important to review the historical context. He suggested there are ways to simplify the process. He also referenced the many documents and discussions about parking restrictions in recent years, many of which never resulted in change.
"There are some elements of history here that I think can have a fresh look," Johnson said. "We haven't resolved the issue or moved new ideas forward."
One suggestion Johnson referenced was to provide guest parking passes similar to how Chicago handles its residential permitted areas. This system would allow residents to have parking passes on hand which would avoid calls to village hall to get one — a frequent annoyance.
Overall, Johnson and others want to see the process simplified.
While the ban has been the topic of past debates, Johnson reminded trustees that one past community forum brought out about 200 people opposed to removing the ban. Trustee Peter Barber seconded the notion of learning more about the history of the parking ban.
"Yes, there are other parking issues," Barber said. "But the overnight ban is the one I'm most concerned about."
Because the issue was brought up simply for discussion to see what steps staff should take next, trustees didn't spend a lot of time on the matter Tuesday. Trustee Colette Lueck said that to have a serious discussion about parking, there needs to be a structured framework. General recommendations won't work, she said.
The remaining trustees agreed it's important to review the history of the ban, how it impacts the village budget in terms of fees and permits and what the impact would be on the village and its residents if changes were made.
Trustee Glen Brewer also requested more information about the impact of keeping the ban, replacing the ban or abolishing the ban in terms of the budget. That would mean evaluating parking structure fees and street parking matters, he noted.
Acting Village Attorney Simone Boutet said the board has the "right to regulate parking in any reasonable method [it] sees fit." Previous legal advice about parking, she said, led trustees to believe Oak Park couldn't make certain changes on its own without having the local law challenged in court.
Reasonable changes, Boutet added, included altering hours or areas where the ban is in effect, or even abolishing the ban altogether.
No date was settled on to bring the item back to the village board, but staff did get the go-ahead to research it.