BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — DANVERS — Selectmen voted Tuesday to do away with the overnight on-street winter parking ban.
Instead, they will try a system that warns residents to move their cars off the street during snowstorms or risk having their vehicles towed and being slapped with at least $175 in fees and fines.
The more-than-40-year-old ban on overnight on-street parking from Dec. 1 to April 1 kept the streets clear for plows to do their job, Town Manager Wayne Marquis said. But after last year’s mild winter, some residents who live downtown, where parking is scarce, questioned the need for a blanket parking ban when there was no snow on the ground or in the forecast.
On Marquis’ recommendation, selectmen voted unanimously to try the system in which a parking ban would only be enforced when there’s a snowstorm and the town needs to plow. Marquis suggested that the board wait to permanently change the traffic rules until a trial is evaluated. The new system takes effect Jan. 1.
Since selectmen act as the town’s traffic commissioners and establish the rules and regulations, the change did not require a Town Meeting vote.
When snow is forecast, the town plans to notify residents using email, automated phone alerts, the town’s website, message boards, notifications on radio station North Shore 104.9 and the press that the overnight parking ban is in effect, Marquis said.
Marquis favored the notification system over a blue-light system for the time being, noting the latter, which would involve mounting blue lights in strategic locations around town, would cost upward of $2,000 and could not be activated by the town’s fire alarm system.
Town Meeting member Carla King, who asked selectmen nine months ago to modify the overnight winter parking ban, came to the meeting with approximately a dozen residents. She said she was not affected by the winter parking ban, but others downtown were.
“I’m excited for the people it affects,” King said.
But selectmen still had concerns. Selectman Mike Powers said it did not appear there was “an active movement” against the winter parking ban, but he was concerned that changing the system might cause confusion among residents.
“I’m not opposed to it,” Powers said. “I would hate to get into a position where we are on-again, off-again.”
Selectman Gardner Trask said he received calls from residents asking him to maintain the overnight winter parking ban. He suggested a hybrid system in which police would not ticket when the streets were clear, but would enforce a ban once snow was about to fall.
Selectmen Chairman Bill Clark said calls to him ran 10-1 in favor of abolishing the blanket ban. Many garden-style apartments and condominiums were permitted with one space, and most families nowadays have more than one car.
Selectman Dan Bennett, who lives and works downtown, motioned to abolish the winter parking ban in favor of a snow emergency system only if parking downtown was allowed on one side of the street. Other board members like Clark felt this sullied the simple idea of doing away with a winter parking ban except in snow emergencies and did not support his move.
With the new snow emergency system, it’s likely that some residents would see their cars towed more frequently. Marquis said that in the last six to eight years, the town has towed about a half-dozen cars. A city like Salem might tow 75 to 100 cars a season.
The cost to residents if a car is towed to make way for the plow would also be steep: $15 for the parking ticket, $125 for the tow and $35 a day the car spends in the impound lot.
Marquis said some on his staff preferred to keep the winter parking ban, given the town’s reputation “for snow and ice removal at the high end of the scale,” given the town was able to plow “from curb to curb.”
This fall, the Peabody City Council voted to do away with its winter parking ban in favor of instituting one during snow emergencies only, a similar system to Salem’s.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.