Fries bans Main Street parking

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Town manager says moving the firehouse creates a need to prohibit on-street parking for safety reasons.

By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

FRIES — Residents and visitors to Fries will no longer be able to park along the town's narrow Main Street between Riverview and Firehouse Drive — unless they want a ticket and/or to have their vehicle towed.
Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to begin enforcing an agreement the town had made previously with the volunteer fire department.

Prior to taking any comments, Town Manager Brian Reed caught up the 20 citizens in attendance on where the issue stood.
Reed explained that when the town started designing a master plan to redevelop the town and help attract economic development, the key to the plan's success was moving the town’s fire department — which sits on prime real estate in the middle of the former mill town.
“Where the fire department is now, is a major piece of property,” Reed said Tuesday night.
Two years ago, the town began looking for a site to relocate the fire hall and, through stimulus funds, the town received $1 million to pay for the relocation.
Though the fire department was reluctant to make the move, Reed said it was agreed then that the town would prohibit parking along Main Street because the majority of the fire department’s calls are in the Providence section of Grayson County. The new firehouse site would require trucks to travel down Main Street to reach Providence.
Reed continued to explain that the issue with parking on Main Street — specifically between Riverview and Firehouse Drives — was a combination of line of sight problems, narrow street width and increased traffic through town.
Additionally, Reed said that an ordinance from 1996 is already on the books, stating that parking should not be allowed on Main Street.
In 2005, the Virginia Department of Transportation offered to build parking spaces for residents along Main Street, if the town eliminated on-street parking then.
“It was turned down,” Reed said of the offer. “Based on the concerns of the police and fire departments, the town needs to eliminate parking.”
In an e-mail to The Gazette last month, Reed said the request was due strictly to safety concerns. “Ninety percent of the department’s calls are towards the Providence area, the trucks will now be going through the center of town.”
Residents have not been welcoming to the change and many spoke at the July meeting in opposition, while firefighters spoke in favor.
On Tuesday night, Fries citizen Jamie Gift again spoke against the change and asked council to consider tearing up the sidewalk to widen the road instead of eliminating parking.
Gift said he didn’t have the space to build parking behind his house and was concerned not only with the narrow alley that residents would be forced to use but also the fact that the alley would not be cleared of snow in the winter.
“How will I get to work?” Gift questioned, if the alley was not cleared during the winter months.
Gift said neither he nor his neighbors have the money to build parking spots in the back of their homes. Reed understood, but added that it was not the town’s responsibility to provide residents a space to park.
Reed explained that tearing up the sidewalks could be a possibility, but that the town didn’t have the equipment or resources, nor the rights to do so. The road belongs to VDOT.
He added that, if council requested, he would be glad to talk with VDOT and see if that was a possibility.
“If there was not a sidewalk… this would not be an issue. But is that going to start another argument?” Reed said, noting that there likely will be citizens who would be upset if the town eliminated the sidewalk. “We’re trying to get businesses. The town’s only revenue is to raise taxes, water and sewer rates.”
It didn't take long to hear from those opposed to that idea. One citizen at the meeting expressed his displeasure with removing the sidewalk, because it may devalue property, while another said that council needed to remember that Fries was “a walking town.”
Reed said that if the fire department was not moved — which won’t happen if parking is not eliminated on Main Street — then the entire downtown plan would be for nothing and Fries would be responsible to pay back the $1 million spent on a new fire hall.
While the decision may not be a popular one for some, Reed explained that taking this first step was huge in the redevelopment of Fries — a town that has little to no businesses providing revenue.
“We have been working for years to try and turn it around,” he said. “Since we started all this, we have received three letters from private investors committed to moving into the old fire department. They’re ready to start a business.”
Gift questioned why the fire department was not put on the Western end of Fries — specifically the old mill site — if the majority of its calls are on that side of town. Reed said the mill property was looked at, but that it was not conducive to building on.
“It would have been a lot more feasible to build it up there,” Gift said of the old mill site, noting that the new site requires firefighters to park across the street from the firehouse.
As the public comment portion of the meeting began to die down, Fries firefighter Eldon Burris questioned why the parking ban was even an issue. He said the agreement was already in place and that the fire department would not put its members at risk by requiring them to travel down Main Street with cars parked on the road.
After closing the public comment section, Mayor Gary Sumner asked council for comments.
Vice Mayor Nancy Hawks said she believed the parking ban was a “moot point,” as it was decided when the fire department agreed to move and the town concurred with the decision.
“I don’t see any way around it,” said Council Member Kenny Brooms. “But I think we should at least investigate the sidewalk idea.”
Hawks motioned to prohibit parking on Main between Riverview Drive and Firehouse Drive and to help find solutions — including possible funding — for residents affected. Council Member Carolyn Jones seconded the motion and it passed unanimously.
Fries Police Chief Bobby Jones told The Gazette that enforcement will be done similar to any other “no parking” zone and that the fines and fees will be the same as in any other “no parking” zone.
Additionally, a violator’s car could be towed at the owner’s expense.