Living downtown just got a little bit easier for Fairfield residents.
Many businesses on the square and in the surrounding area offer apartments on their second floor. Though it’s hard to find a location more convenient than downtown, tenants were saddled with burdensome parking regulations. Namely, they could not leave their vehicles on the city streets overnight, meaning they had to find a nearby parking lot or a street blocks away that did allow overnight parking between 2-6 a.m.
During the past decade, a few tenants have brought up the issue of overnight parking to the city council’s public safety committee, but it was not until 2019 that the committee agreed to recommend changing the law to the full council. On Feb. 10, the Fairfield City Council passed the final reading of an ordinance to allow downtown residents to park their vehicles on the street overnight, with a few exceptions such as on snow emergencies and to accommodate the streetsweeper.
During snow emergencies, parking will be prohibited from Second Street to B Street, and from Washington Avenue to Hempstead Avenue between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. The prohibition will remain in effect until the street is plowed curb to curb. The city will provide notice of a snow emergency at least 12 hours before the effective time of the emergency.
Fairfield resident Joel Roodman owns Logic Products on the west side of the square and he lives above his store. He moved to the square in the fall of 2019, and didn’t think much about the parking situation at the time.
“It didn’t dawn on me that you couldn’t park there overnight,” he said. “And the nearest municipal lot was kind of far away.”
Roodman didn’t understand why Fairfield required downtown residents to move their cars every night when other cities don’t. He contacted city council member Michael Halley, who represents the Fourth Ward, which covers downtown and the surrounding blocks. Halley sympathized with Roodman’s plight, and recommended he plead his case to the council, but to do so armed with evidence to support his position. Roodman did exactly that, calling neighboring cities such as Washington, Mt. Pleasant and Oskaloosa to inquire about their downtown parking regulations. All of them allow downtown residents to leave their cars on the street overnight except on snow emergencies.
Roodman also spoke to downtown landlords about the issue, and found that there are somewhere between 30-35 rental apartments around the square.
“Downtown residents have to walk 1.5 blocks to their car, and some of these days are pretty cold,” Roodman said. “It’s a quality-of-life issue.”
Roodman added that it’s nice to see a full and lively downtown, but under the old rules, Fairfield’s downtown looked barren because there were no cars on the square at night.
Roodman first made his pitch in late 2019 to the transportation and public safety committee consisting of Halley, Katy Anderson and Doug Flournoy. At the time, the committee was considering a more contentious and far-reaching issue of remaking all the one-way streets downtown into two-way. Roodman said he thinks this fact played to his advantage in making the committee more willing to accept a comparatively minor change like the one he was proposing.
Fairfield Streets Superintendent Darrel Bisgard expressed concern over downtown residents not moving their vehicles in a snow emergency if they got in the habit of leaving them on the street all the other days, and that this would make them difficult to plow around. Roodman said it would be no different to what the city does on every other street, which is to plow around parked cars and then ticket those who refuse to move off the street in a certain period of time. Roodman said he understood the city’s need to tow vehicles that don’t move after a snow emergency.
Halley remarked, “Part of the reason [this proposal] was a success was that Joel’s approach was no-nonsense. He didn’t shy away from having his car towed. He understood the city’s needs.”
Halley has been a council member since 2010. In that time, there were two occasions when a downtown resident lobbied to change the downtown parking ordinance, but both of those attempts failed.
“The city said no because the councilors felt that if you allow parking sometimes, then people won’t move for snow emergencies or streetsweeping,” Halley said. “But with the increase in people living downtown and more apartments being renovated, the third time was the charm.”
Halley said the number of nights residents would have to move their cars is very few. First of all, they only need to move their cars in the event of a snow emergency, which means 3 inches or more of snow. Second of all, the streetsweeper only runs one day per month from April through October, the last Thursday from midnight to 6 a.m. the following Friday morning.
“I am physically downtown every single day, so I see the issues people face,” Halley said. “This issue has only gotten worse as more people live in our downtown. It was something we needed to address eventually.”
Halley remarked that the fact the proposal was spearheaded by a resident gave it an extra boost.
“When citizens initiate something, the council listens more than if a council member addresses it,” he said. “If you champion your own cause, you might be surprised at the result. If citizens are willing to cooperate and to compromise, I’ve seen a lot of success just like this.”
The new ordinance is in effect now, though the street signs informing residents of the change won’t be installed until March.