SEMO students want to give input on parking changes

Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Traffic flows along Normal Street near Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau Thursday, June 30, 2011. Residents along Normal, West End and Park streets are working to propose an ordinance that would restrict parking on these streets from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. (Laura Simon)

Patrick Vining isn't necessarily opposed to changing some of the side-street parking near Southeast Missouri State University. But he is resolutely against those changes happening without any recent input from the students.

So Vining, the new president of Southeast Student Government, was disappointed Monday to learn that's exactly what's happening as Cape Girardeau officials work to implement parking restrictions on heavily used public streets near campus before the fall semester starts next month.

"I think it's important for us to have more of a voice in the process," said Vining, a 20-year-old sophomore from Waynesville, Mo. "This is a decision that will affect a lot of students. If the decision is made over the summer, they'll come back and not have been a part of the process at all."

City officials, however, said that they feel they've already gathered information from students from a parking task force that convened in 2007, 2009 and 2010. The task forces included a commuter student and that these proposed changes -- closing certain streets to daytime parking in the Boulevard Historic District south of campus -- are a continuation of those meetings, said city manager Scott Meyer.

"There was a lot of input at that point," Meyer said. "So this is really an extension of what's already been done. To say there has been no university input, that's not correct. I understand it was some time ago, but it was done."

The former student who served on the parking task force, however, said the city should get some fresh student perspective. Brooke Lockhart, who graduated in December, said a lot has changed since the task force last met, including the construction of a parking garage.

"They don't necessarily have to poll every student on campus, but I think they should talk to a few students now," said Lockhart, who lives and works in Cape Girardeau. "Parking has always been a big problem on campus. They're talking to all the residents, why not talk to the students? It affects them, too."

Meyer will meet with residents at 7 p.m. July 19 at the city council chambers at 401 Independence St. The purpose of the meeting, he said, will be to talk to residents who live on or near Highland Drive, Park Avenue, Normal Avenue and West End Boulevard. But Meyer categorized the open meeting as aimed at residents, not students.

"The focus will really be to go block by block and find out what the residents want in the area in front of their homes," Meyer said. "They may tell us to leave it the way it is or that they want us to limit parking. That doesn't mean we'll automatically be able to do what they want, but it will help us look at the whole thing."

90-day authority

While it typically would take two meetings for the Cape Girardeau City Council to adopt ordinances that would change the parking, Meyer has authority to temporarily implement parking changes for 90 days; that would allow the changes to be made before the fall semester and give the council time to vote on them after.

The council wanted the parking situation addressed before the fall semester so the students would not have to change their parking habits in the middle of the school year. Meyer said that students were welcome to give their comments to the council directly at the meetings when the issue is voted on -- along with everyone else.

"But you'd think they'd want student input before it got to that stage," Vining said. "By the time it gets there, you get the feeling the council members have already made up their mind."

Residents have complained that students park in front of their homes, sometimes leaving their vehicles parked there for days. Some block driveways and residents say so many cars crammed along those narrow streets are unsafe and unsightly.

Council member Debra Tracy favored issuing resident permits, which would allow only those who live along those streets to park on them. But the council as a whole opted not to do that, instead asking Meyer to look at closing the streets from 8 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. Meyer said that while no one would be allowed to park there if the council chooses to do that during those hours -- residents or students -- the possibility of tickets would at least discourage students from leaving their cars there for days at a time.

Still, Liz Vinson, president of the Student Activities Council, wishes the city would listen to them, just as it intends to do with the residents. Some students can't afford the permits, she said, and when she was a freshman who lived on campus, she parked on Normal Avenue often to get to nearby Dearmont Hall.

"It would have been a nightmare if I couldn't have parked there," she said. "I understand that the residents are upset, but it seems to me there's got to be a compromise somewhere in the middle."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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