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By Lizzy Hewitt, contributing reporter
The Waitsfield Select Board again discussed the problem of overflow parking on Old County Road for the Mad River Valley Health Center with members of the health center board.
On December 22, Sue Frechette, Chuck Martel and Suzanne Chamberlain from the Mad River Valley Health Center board addressed the select board about problems that have recently arisen with overflow parking on Old County Road. The board agreed to encourage tenants to use off-campus parking and to clarify the restrictions for on-street parking.
PARK THEIR CARS
The issue arose after tenants in the building came to the select board last month to discuss town-installed signs that promise towing for those who park their cars on the south side of the Old County Road during snowstorms. Two of the tenants who came to the board said that the signs were hurting their businesses and said that they felt their rent should include adequate parking.
They asked the board for clarification on the permitting process that allowed the health center to be built and asked for the town's help in solving the problem. MRVHC board members have twice been in to talk to the select board about the overflow parking situation. Health center board members and the select board developed a plan for overflow parking at a meeting a year ago. On-street parking was limited to the south side of Old County Road, a safe distance from the intersection with Route 100. During a snow emergency, on-street parking is not permitted.
Last year, the parking policy was fairly self-regulating, board members said. Before the signs were put up on Old County Road, posters were put up inside the building. In cases when plows were required to clear the roads throughout the day, overflow parking was not an issue.
When there is a real snow emergency, health center president Sue Frechette explained, "People don't go to the doctor, they don't get a massage, they reschedule their physical therapy appointments."
Signs reading "No parking during winter snow storm" were posted along Old County Road in November. Confusion has arisen about when parking along the road is not allowed. Patients and practitioners are inconvenienced; people are skipping appointments to avoid being towed.
The ordinance provides little clarity, stating that it is "unlawful to park on the south side during winter weather events." Select board members agreed that the intention was to prevent overflow parking from interfering with town snow plowing.
ON THE ROAD
"Even with a little bit of snow there's an issue with cars being on the road during a snow," said select board member Roy Hadden. "I think our crew is pretty good at getting these roads cleaned up pretty quickly during a snow. During an active snow, they're expected to plow."
The health center parking lot has 18 parking spaces, including two handicapped spaces. Typically there are an additional five or six cars parked on Old County Road in front of the health center, although there can be as many as eight. On average, 10 cars belong to tenants of the building.
"Off-campus" parking is another possible solution. Any extra space in the parking lots of the General Wait House and the Waitsfield Fire Department could help reduce pressure on the health center lot. Mad River Garden Center and Clearwater Sports are other possibilities. Locating five or six off-campus spaces for tenants would cut down on the amount of on-street parking.
Long-term plans for expanding the parking area are expected to be completed in 2010. One option is to move the septic system, especially if a municipal wastewater system becomes a reality in Waitsfield. A second option is to work out a solution in conjunction with Safe Routes to School, a program that seeks to lay out safe routes for children to walk to school.
Said Frechette, the problems of parking for the health center are rooted in its success.
"Fortunately but unfortunately we are victims of more success than we ever thought we would have at the health center."