LEWISTON — It's time to get rid of the city's wintertime ban on overnight parking, a group of landlords told city councilors Tuesday.
Landlords and members of the city's Downtown Neighborhood Action Committee urged councilors to adopt a storm-by-storm emergency ban, letting downtown residents park cars in front of their buildings when the weather is clear.
Cars left on the streets and blocking city plows during winter storms could be ticketed and towed under the proposed plan.
"I have yet to hear a legitimate argument for why it can't be done, other than it seems like it will be a pain and we've always done it differently," landlord Chris Aceto said.
Lewiston currently bans overnight parking downtown from Dec. 1 through the end of March. Downtown residents find an alternate place to keep their cars overnight during the winter months.
The current system works for the city's police and plow drivers, according to Public Works Director David Jones.
"If you are a plow guy, and my guys are, it does work," Jones said. "We are getting the streets cleared and we are not having to deal with many cars on the road. We may have to tow 30 or 35 cars in the first storm. But later storms that decreases."
Jones said he expects the city would end up towing as many as 75 cars per storm if the complete nighttime ban is lifted.
But landlords said it's a hardship for them and their tenants.
"When I am filling vacant apartments, the first thing people ask about is parking and if they can have two spaces," Adilah Muhammad, chairman of the Downtown Neighborhood Action Committee. "If we want to attract families and dual-earner households, this is not just a downtown issue or how you get the plow through. It's about attracting investment to the downtown."
Portland and Auburn have similar emergency parking ban policies. In Portland, cars towed to make way for snow plows are taken to a central, city controlled lot. In Auburn, the tow trucks take them to their own individual lots.
City Administrator Ed Barrett said he expects councilors to decide the downtown's winter parking rules by later this summer. There are a number of questions that need to be answered, such as where to put the towed cars.
An impound lot would cost $18,375 per year to operate, according to Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau. It would require someone to staff it and some sort of a temporary structure as an office.
And tow truck operators said there is also a problem with liability insurance with a city-owned lot. They would remain liable for damage to towed cars, according to current city rules.
"Our insurance polices will not cover any vehicle that's not left in our property," Phil Lavoie, vice president of the Androscoggin Towing Safety Association, said. "That's a big concern for six out of your seven towing companies. They are very much against that policy.
At least two councilors, Ward 6's Mark Cayer and Ward 2 Don D'Auteuil, were OK with the storm-by-storm ban but said they didn't like the idea of a city-run impound lot.
"My biggest issue is that we're adding staff and potentially a shack out there," Cayer said. "It's cost to everyone in the city, and most are not affected by this. It just affects a small part of the city."
But Lavoie said tow operators had other problems. With seven tow operators working in Lewiston-Auburn and a total of 14 trucks available, he didn't know if the trucks would be able to keep up with all the calls during a snow emergency.
"The onset of a snowstorm is when you guys would have us moving cars, and that's also our busiest time of the year," Lavoie said. "Out of 14 trucks total, I think you'll be lucky to get 10 trucks. Could they move 75 trucks in two or three hours? Maybe, if things went perfectly."