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After dust settles, subcommittees work to draft new parking ordinance

By Katelyn Gendron-List

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM Damage control over the two-month-old transient parking ordinance continued last week at a joint meeting of the Zoning and Ordinance Subcommittees.

At the City Council meeting on Sept. 4, members of the Council publicly apologized for the implementation of the new transient parking ordinance in July that has fueled this town into an uproar. The council then voted unanimously to send the ordinance to the Planning Board for amending by repeal.

In response to the controversy Richard Cohen, mayor of Agawam has proposed two amendments to the new ordinance that will exempt non-profit organizations and municipal buildings from the temporary parking permit application fee of $250.

However it will not exempt them from the structural requirements of the lots themselves.

Previously area churches have been told that they need a special permit from the Board of Appeals in order to park cars for non-church functions such as Senior Center bus trips.

Rather than amending the current ordinance nine of the 11 City Councilors attended the joint subcommittee meeting to discuss the drafting of an entirely new ordinance.

The three-member Zoning Subcommittee including Chair Gina Leteiller, George Bitzas and Robert Rossi convened with the Ordinance Subcommittee including Chair Robert Magovern, Cecelia Calabrese and Ruth Carr Bitzas to discuss the criteria for a new ordinance. Also in attendance were City Council President Donald Rheault, and City Councilors Joseph Mineo and Jill Simpson.

Simpson and Leteiller suggested that if a parking lot already has a site approval plan and is an approved parking lot the owner of the property should be allowed to park cars, provided that they do not go over their allotted number of spaces and that the owner obtains a special permit.

Magovern suggested that the word "gratis" be removed from the ordinance's definition of temporary parking.

In the new ordinance temporary or transient parking is defined as "the parking of vehicles for a fee or gratis, which is not incidental to the primary business or residential use of the property at issue."

He added that the removal of the word "gratis" would exempt the churches and other non-profit organizations that have been affected negatively by the ordinance as they have been in the past.

However Leteiller said she was told by the Law Department when drafting the current ordinance that non-profits could not be exempted, as it would be discriminatory and unconstitutional.

Over the course of the meeting councilors debated ideas on how to rewrite the language of the parking ordinance and create a viable law that will work for every part of the town.

Simpson said she wanted to make sure that residents affected by transient parkers at Six Flags would not have to go back to life before the new ordinance, when transient parkers were leaving garbage and urinating on lawns adjacent to where they were parked.

At the conclusion of the meeting both subcommittees voted unanimously to submit their meeting notes to the Planning Board for review and upon the next meeting of the City Council invite the Planning Board to be co-petitioner for the new ordinance.

"We tried to make a parking ordinance for the entire town," Rossi said of the current ordinance. "Amending the ordinance is not going to work. We can't selectively enforce our laws."