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City of Tonawanda residents wonder why winter parking ban continues

City of Tonawanda residents have seen winter parking bans lifted in communities all around them – in Buffalo, the Town of Tonawanda, Kenmore and the City of North Tonawanda – and they're questioning why they can't park on their city's streets overnight.

The warmest February on record in the Buffalo area brought smiles to many faces.

But on a City of Tonawanda social group on Facebook, many are expressing their frustrations that the overnight parking restrictions remain in place.

"It's pathetic and embarrassing. 60 degrees and someone can get a ticket for parking in the street," wrote Joe Kancar on the Tonawanda City Community page.

Michael Thursam agreed, saying it was amazing that the City of North Tonawanda could meet in one night and lift the ban, but the City of Tonawanda could not. He added, "It's unreal. (Other communities) have the ability to decide things and make decisions on the fly, we, for some reason, cannot."

Mayor Rick Davis responded via social media, attempting to explain that he did not have the power to change the parking ordinance.

He said that despite the discussions online they had very few complaints in person at City Hall.

The overnight parking ban, which begins on Oct. 1 in the City of Tonawanda, is expected to remain in place through April 1. Davis told The Buffalo News that the issue is not on Tuesday's agenda and noted that it would be too late to make any changes if it is added to the March 21 agenda.

He said it is not a quick and easy process in the City of Tonawanda.

"I don't know how the other cities and towns are able – on a whim – to (lift the ban,)" said Davis. "For us, if there is a change in the ordinance, the Common Council needs to publish that twice in a newspaper publication and vote on it."

Some residents praised the Common Council on the Facebook page.

"Listen folks, up until two years ago, you couldn't park on the street overnight PERIOD. A few extra weeks isn't going to kill anyone and now DPW can get the sweepers out early and clean up the winter mess before overnight parking resumes. If I had a vote here, it would be to stay the course and leave the "ordinance bending" alone," wrote Mike O'Connor.

The city has been slow to change its overnight parking bans. Until 2014, it was one of the only area municipalities that had year-round overnight parking restrictions – an ordinance that dated from the 1940s when many families had one car or no car.

The council allowed overnight parking from April 1 until Sept. 30 as a test in 2014 and then, by a slim majority, approved an ordinance that struck down the year-round ban.

Davis supported relaxing restrictions to allow overnight parking in the summer. It was an issue that was revisited for decades until there was a Common Council majority that approved the change to a seasonal ban.

Parking is much less restrictive in the nearby Village of Kenmore, where last year the board shortened its overnight parking ban by one month, switching to Nov. 15 to March 15. Due to the weather forecasts, the village elected in 2016 not to begin enforcing its off-street parking bans until Dec. 1. Then it ended its overnight ban this year on Feb. 23, two days after Buffalo had lifted its ban.

So Village of Kenmore residents had just three months of overnight parking enforcement in the winter of 2016-2017 compared to six months in the City of Tonawanda.

Kathleen P. Johnson, Village of Kenmore clerk-treasurer, said the village has language in its ordinance that allows village officials more flexibility. She said the decision rests in the hands of the mayor and does not require a board vote. She said if forecasts change, and the mayor wants to put the ban back in place earlier or later, the city will alert residents on the village website, and through social media and traditional media.

She said when the village lifted parking restrictions in both November and February it didn't change the ordinance dates, but rather suspended enforcement.

Davis was asked if he or the Common Council could ask the City of Tonawanda police to suspend enforcement.

"The police's job to enforce the law and the ordinances that we have in effect, if they see someone parked overnight in the street they get a ticket," said Davis. "A police officer can't decide on their own which ordinances and laws they will uphold and not uphold."

Davis said he can issue an executive order, but only when the health and safety of the city residents are at risk. He said this executive order would not apply to an overnight parking ban, nor would he want to see the mayor's office get in the habit of asking the police which laws to enforce or not enforce.

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