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City officials reach compromise with marina on special event parking

You can again park for free at the Erie Basin Marina.

The $5 fee for parking during special events is gone.

Soon, it will be replaced with a two-hour parking limit on days when crowds flock to Canalside activities. Anyone caught violating the two-hour limit would be subject to a fine – likely $25 to $50, according to the compromise policy worked out Thursday between the city and its marina operator.

The compromise is expected to be discussed at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting, when it likely will be adopted.

“I’m pleased with the compromise,” Common Council President Darius G. Pridgen said after he and a few other Council members discussed the issue with Brown administration officials and the operators of Erie Basin Marina. “It’s fair,” Pridgen said.

“Yes, it will work, if we have parking enforcement,” said Greg Dekdebrun, marina manager for Smith Boys, which operates the marina for the city.

“We want to ensure public safety and security,” added Steven J. Stepniak, the city’s public works commissioner. “If this works, we are good with it.”

At the end of May, the marina began charging a $5 parking fee when special events were held at nearby Canalside. The fee was necessary, Dekdebrun said, to limit the number of vehicles parking in the marina lots and to help pay for additional security needed on those days. In the past, because the marina lots were the only ones in the area not charging, the lots got so crowded with Canalside patrons that there wasn’t enough parking for marina slip holders or others wanting to visit the marina, Dekdebrun said.

Within days of the fee being imposed, Council members were deluged with complaints from city residents objecting to having to pay to park at a city marina and park. Council members agreed, calling the charge a money grab.

It turned out the Council authorized the parking fee in April, when it approved a contract addendum with the marina operator that also increased boat slip fees. Stepniak said the Council was told about the parking fee provision in the addendum before the body was asked to vote on it. But Council members insist they were not aware of the provision, and would not have supported it if they had known.

On Tuesday, the Council formed a subcommittee to look for alternatives to the $5 fee. That committee met on Thursday.

While details still need to be worked out, here’s the basic plan being proposed:

• Motorists driving into the Erie Basin Marina lot when Canalside is having an event will stop at the marina entrance and receive a time-stamped ticket. The ticket is to be left on the car dashboard, visible from the outside.

• Parking will be free, but will be limited to two hours.

• Parking enforcement officers will patrol the lots.

• Any car found to be parked more than two hours will receive a parking ticket. The fine could range from $25 to $50.

Assuming the Council approves the policy Tuesday, it will start as soon as the city provides the ticketing machine and enforcement, Dekdebrun said.

The city already is looking into buying a machine, and hopes to have one installed quickly, Stepniak said.

The key, however, Dekdebrun said, is enforcement. In the past, he said, he has had trouble getting the city to follow through with parking enforcement at the marina.

At Thursday’s meeting, Dekdebrun said, city officials assured him enforcement will be provided. The city also agreed to provide Dekdebrun’s staff with parking ticketing scanners so they also can ticket cars illegally parked at the marina, Stepniak said.

Meanwhile, even before the two-hour system is in place, there was a concert at Canalside on Thursday night.

At the Council’s request, Dekdebrun said, he dropped the parking fee immediately.

“I am going to be jampacked,” he said.

email: sschulman@buffnews.com