Frustration over parking restrictions is coming to a boil for some condominium owners and apartment renters in Oak Park.
Living in many multifamily homes in Oak Park often means parking your car on the street. And that means living in constant vigilance of where your car is parked and when it needs to be moved, says Kate Susmilch, who last week called a meeting of like-minded parking-frustrated Oak Parkers.
“This is unbearable,” Susmilch said. “We make [life] decisions based on parking.”
Consider: Susmilch once drove to a job she had in Chicago, despite living three blocks from the Green Line, because of daytime parking restrictions; she says some of her fellow condo-dwellers pay $1,000 a year in parking tickets; when going on vacation, your car has to either come with you or you need to find someplace to stow it.
The meeting became a movement, complete with a slogan (“Got parking?”) and an acronym (NOPE, which stands for Neglected On-street Parkers Exasperated).
“What we’re trying to do is be heard and effect some changes,” Susmilch said. “This is a huge quality-of-life issue for these residents.”
Susmilch lives in a busy part of the village, in the Santa Maria condo building on Oak Park Avenue and Erie Street, which, at 112 units, is the largest in Oak Park, she said. It’s steps from Scoville Park, The Avenue, and Cheney Mansion.
But that means parking is at a premium.
Susmilch’s concerns aren’t new to Sonny Ginsburg, the chair of the Transportation Commission. Getting parking relief to apartment and condo dwellers was a major impetus behind an upcoming review of the village’s long-standing overnight parking ban.
But, figuring out how to deliver relief “is not so easy,” Ginsburg said, for two reasons: the law, and people’s feelings about the ban.
The commission has received 1,200 written opinions from Oak Parkers about changing the overnight parking ban, which keeps cars off the streets at night in front of single-family homes. Most single-family homeowners want to keep the ban, including those who live near condo-and apartment-dense areas of town, Ginsburg said.
They, along with condo owners and everybody else will get to weigh in on changing the overnight ban at a hearing at 7 p.m. on April 9 at the Oak Park and River Forest High School auditorium, 201 N. Scoville Ave.
Lawsuit could mean all or nothing
Pat Shannon lives in a single-family home at 175 Euclid Ave.-the corner of Euclid and Ontario Street. Until a few months ago, Susmilch said, the village allowed overnight permit parkers like her to park on the street on the side of Shannon’s house.
Removing that area from both sides of two streets-Ontario and Erie-meant the loss of about 30 spaces for overnight permit parkers, Susmilch said.
Shannon said he’s “quite for” the overnight parking ban in general. “It keeps the village from looking like the city, where you can’t find a [parking space].”
And, he likes how the ban preserves the single-family feeling of his block, where a neighbor-led drive resulted in most of the block being resident-only parking from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m every day.
But Shannon said the streets are public property and that he thinks overnight permit holders should be able to park on Ontario near his house.
“We have to make some arrangements for [condo owners],” he said.
Although security is often cited as a reason to keep the overnight ban, Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley told the Chicago Tribune in February that there’s no evidence the ban has reduced crime, and that he’s more concerned about his officers spending time ticketing cars at night.
“If they’re writing tickets, then that means they’re not patrolling the alleys and streets as much as I’d like,” Tanksley said.
Ginsburg said a major caution against changing the ban is its legal standing, which was challenged in the 1970s and upheld. Would modification bring another challenge? Ginsburg said the result could be all (no overnight parking anywhere, even in front of multifamily buildings) or nothing (no restrictions anywhere), and would at least be a costly battle for the village.
But Ginsburg and other commissioners realize something needs to be done, and another possible solution might be found in an “area-wide parking study” the commission is overseeing. What started as a review of street signs only, the study has become “a moving target,” Ginsburg said, becoming more complex since it was proposed a year and a half ago.
It will now include parking needs of multifamily residents and businesses, too.
Through the study, the commission could find, block by block, a few parking spaces here or there, or change restrictions, to make the lives of on-street parkers easier.
Ginsburg said the commission has received no clear message from the village board as to whether it should try to increase parking supply or work to reduce the demand, although individual trustees have weighed in one way or another.
The argument for reducing demand is that if there are more parking spaces, driving becomes easier, meaning more cars, traffic, etc.
Susmilch, who said her interest in on-street parking stems from her former presidency of the Santa Maria condo board and not from her new job with one of the village’s largest property rental companies, believes many of the parking headaches are restrictions-related.
Daytime parking restrictions become overnight restrictions, especially for people who work late shifts (who wants to wake up in the middle of the night to move a car?). Street cleaning is a weekly imposition, yet streets aren’t cleaned every week, she said.
Overnight guests can park in Oak Park five times a year. “It’s a relationship killer,” Rich Carollo, a condo owner and member of the Transportation Commission, told the Tribune.
There’s a lack of consistency-on some blocks you have to move your car before 10 a.m., others by 8 a.m. At metered spaces on Oak Park Avenue, it’s 9 a.m. Oh, except when there’s street cleaning, then it’s 8 a.m.
“I found it easier to park in [Chicago],” Susmilch said.
Susmilch says she’s lived in her condo five years, and is “religious” about following restrictions, but still makes parking mistakes. “There’s something wrong when a reasonable person can’t figure out the parking,” she said.
“Condos are supposed to be the affordable housing in Oak Park,” she said. “One hundred dollar tickets aren’t affordable.”