NARRAGANSETT - The Town Council Monday evening passed a new ordinance regarding parking on Narragansett Avenue. The ordinance was drafted in response to a lawsuit brought against the town on behalf of a group of University of Rhode Island students, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who claimed that they were unfairly ticketed for parking violations on Narragansett Avenue last fall.
In September 2011, URI Pharmacy students Caitlin Dowd, Grace Riganese, and Jenessa Redfern, began renting a house on Narragansett Avenue on a nine-month lease and obtained permits to park alongside the street overnight. In October, Narragansett Police placed notices on their vehicles that a permanent resident was no longer considered on nine-month leases and that the town had extended the requirement for a parking permit to 12 months.
“Three graduate students were issued overnight parking permits in September, but then in January the police department ignored the validity of their permits, issued tickets and refused to dismiss them,” said ACLU Attorney H. Jefferson Melish in April. “The overnight parking ordinance was never amended by the Town Council and the students were never given a hearing before their eligibility for parking permits was arbitrarily taken away. They are entitled to a vindication of their rights.”
At the September 4 regular meeting, the Town Council voted unanimously, excepting Wilkens, to settle with the students, agreeing to reimburse the parking fees for which they were ticketed, as well as paying for the counsel fee, quoted by Melish at $5,000.
A further response on the part of the town regarding the settlement was to change a number of items in the language of the current parking ordinance for Narragansett Avenue. The total allowance for transferable parking permits, for example, has been altered from two to four per household. The changes have been made under the direction of Town Solicitor Mark McSally.
According to a letter sent to the Town Council dated July 30, 2012, McSally cited contradictions in current practice of parking enforcement with a 1990 ordinance which provided permitted parking in the center of town, but did not specifically define the term ‘permanent resident.’
“The Ordinance limits the eligibility for permits to only those ‘permanently residing at an address or owning land abutting the sections of streets specified…[and] also limits the number of parking permits per household to two,” read McSally’s letter. “Despite the above language, the policy of the Town for years has been to issue four permits per household and to also accept as proof of ‘permanent residency’ a lease of six months or longer.”
Proof of residency for parking permits will thus be determined by residents producing photo identification, such as a driver’s license, at Narragansett Police Department, or by renters who present a six month lease or longer. According to the ordinance, renters who have leases for six months or less can also obtain temporary transferable tags from the property owner.
Harry Schofield, a homeowner on Narragansett Avenue, spoke about his discontent regarding the changes to the parking ordinance.
“I believe this is a capitulation on the part of the town and I disagree with it,” said Schofield. “I can understand and appreciate the need to settle this without court expenses, but there are some things worth fighting for on behalf of the residents.”
“I would at least suggest that four parking passes for each house is too many,” he added. “It doesn’t work and isn’t fair to residents who are confined by cars that don’t belong to there. We are paying the price to give rental properties a free ride here, and I don’t believe that [the Council] should have given in this easily.”
Schofield also made mention of the work that the town and residents on Narragansett Avenue have done over the past year to come to an agreement regarding parking that would satisfy residents’ and student renters’ needs, as well as the businesses which operate on the street, stating that such efforts are reversed by the ordinance changes.
Town Council President Glenna Hagopian stressed that the Council still adhered to the spirit of their work and that the Council did not agree with the staff decisions which led to the URI students being ticketed.
“We did support it, but it was in the actual implementation that staff went outside of what we supported,” said Hagopian. “We were in litigation because of it and had to look at the definition [of ‘permanent resident’ in the ordinance].”
“It was in the ordinance’s implementation that mistakes were made,” she added.
McSally further noted in his letter that former Town Manger Grady Miller exchanged a number of emails with residents regarding the term’s definition in relation to permitting along Narragansett Avenue, and that ‘apparently, at some point in time the Town Manager’s office decided that the permits issued to these student renters were not valid and had them revoked.’
The Council voted 4-0 to adopt the ordinance with Councilman Christopher Wilkens a recusal because of his residency on Narragansett Avenue.