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Steve ByrneByrne

Board of Selectmen logo, Jan. 23, 2013

Selectmen voted unanimously Monday, Feb. 11, to give voters in April a nonbinding ballot question aimed at changing a longtime Arlington tradition -- the overnight parking ban.

How the question is worded and what its specific aims are remain to take shape. Board members want to know whether residents favor loosening the townwide ban, which says vehicles may not park on the street for more than two hours between 1 and 7 a.m.

Selectman Steven Byrne, who proposed the ballot question, said, "it's an appropriate way to gauge residents' feelings and then set appropriate policies."

He floated a precinct-by-precinct idea about how the ban might change, but other board members resisted it.

If voters want to drop the ban and officials change the parking rules about that, residents would still have to pay the $200 annual fee for an overnight-parking permit, and there would be no overnight parking allowed on Mass. Ave. or Mystic and Summer streets, according to Byrne's plan.

Selectmen expect to discuss at their next meeting the goals of such a questions, options to consider as well as wording to be proposed by Town Counsel Juliana Rice.
Byrne initially proposed having the changed parking rules administered by precinct -- that is, those of Arlington's 21 precincts that voted to end the ban on the ballot question would have it removed and those that wanted to keep it would continue to have it.

Kevin Greeley, the board's chairman, didn't go for that. "At this point, I don’t think we should talk about potential solutions," he said.

Greeley said he supported the ballot question, not the precinct-by-precinct administration.

Byrne, in his first year as selectman, called precinct-by-precinct "the fairest possible way to let the voters decide how they would want their own neighborhoods to look."

He said Fred Ryan, the police chief, and Bob Jefferson, the fire chief, believed the administration of such a plan was doable.

Byrne said he expects more support for removing the ban in East Arlington.

Overall, selectmen agreed that this question could help solve one of the town's long-standing parking issues, which is related to too many vehicles and too few places to put them.

History of issue is murky

It is unclear when the overnight ban was instituted -- or why.

Officials have offered a variety of reasons over the years. They include hard economic factors -- without the ban, the town's insurance rates could rise -- to softer issues of perception: "We don't want Arlington to look like Cambridge or Somerville."

Greeley, who has in the past proposed alternate-side-of-the-street parking as a solution, said he thinks the ban was enacted to help police officers on patrol better view streets and neighborhoods.

Selectman Joseph Curro Jr. said he had asked many longtime residents why the ban was put in place, "and I almost never get the same answer twice."

The $200 overnight fee was instituted about five years ago. It was increased from a $100 fee put in place about 1996.

Greeley noted a caution about private ways, which he said make up about one-third of the town. Residents who live on them may want them to become public if the ban is lifted, as overnight parking is permitted there. Selectman Dan Dunn, who lives on a private way, smiled and agreed.

The nonbinding question, if approved, would be the second to go before voters at Saturday, April 6, town election. The other is the question about Mass. Ave.

Online poll shows support for ban

YourArlington conducted an unscientific poll for 28 days in October 2011 asking whether the overnight ban should be repealed. Sixty-five percent voted to retain the ban.

Here are the results among 131 voting:
Retained: 85 (64.9%)
Repealed: 46 (35.1%)
No opinion: 0

A second poll conducted during that period, asked the public to choose solutions if you wanted to repeal the bylaw. Sixty-two voted in the second poll.
If you favor repeal, what should happen next for on-street parking overnight (choose just one)?
Parking on one side of the street only with a low-cost permit (to cover costs): 18 (29%)
Parking anytime, anywhere without a permit: 15 (24.2%)
Parking on one side of the street only with a higher-cost permit (to raise revenue): 13 (21%)
Parking anytime, anywhere with a low-cost permit (to cover costs): 12 (19.4%)
Parking anytime, anywhere with a higher-cost permit (to raise revenue): 4 (6.5%)

This story was published Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013.

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