Parking lot loitering up for discussion

The Ashland City Council will discuss complaints about homeless people congregating at a public parking lot and consider possible solutions at a study session on Monday night, Jan. 9. 

The complaint comes from Stan Potocki, a neighboring property owner near the intersection of North Pioneer Street and Lithia Way, who claims groups of homeless people gather in the parking lot, where they smoke, use expletives and, he claims, they drink and leave beer cans in the parking lot, tossing some over a fence and into his yard. 

The so called “downtown behavior” issues were addressed last year by council in creating new ordinances around loitering on sidewalks, smoking downtown and “aggressive panhandling” when the council banned such activities on the downtown corridor. Now Potocki claims there has been displacement as a result into the area where he owns property for his vocational therapy business. He wants the restrictions to apply to the city-owned parking lot.

The restrictions are focused on the downtown Enhanced Law Enforcement Area (ELEA), a roughly two- by six-block area bounded by Lithia Way on the northeast, Third and Hargadine streets on the southeast, Hargadine Street on the southwest and Winburn Way, Calle Guanajuato and Church Street on the northwest.

“I have never seen the parking lot as bad as it is," Potocki said of the area, which is on the northeast side but outside of the ELEA. "What goes on daily is exponentially worse than ever before.” 

Potocki is asking the city to expand the smoking ban to his area, eliminate the landscaping, which includes several trees, shrubs and natural buffers, in the parking area, and to have police officers patrol the area next to his property more vigorously and install cameras in the parking lot. 

He would also like to build a large wall between his property on Pioneer Street and the parking lot it abuts on the southwest side. “I am in the process of following up with city administrative personnel regarding mitigation involving replacing the 27-year-old wooden fence with a wall,” according to Potocki. 

Potocki worte to the council suggesting these changes, he says, to protect his property. He attached photographs of people sitting on the curb of the parking lot. The business owner does not allege theft, vandalism or any such crimes, but says he believes people urinate on his fence and have thrown beer cans over his fence. 

He is also concerned, according to his letter, that their presence will make it difficult for disabled drivers to park. 

“Without question, the City of Ashland cannot want to have handicap parking spaces literally occupied by groups of people," Potocki wrote. "Beer bottles strewn throughout the landscaped areas and in the parking lot creating a very negative impression.” 

The photos show groupings of two to three beer cans, people on the curb with their feet in the parking spaces, one man with a dog in a space, and a separate car with the hood opened. 

The council has discussed replacing the wooden fence with an 8-foot high concrete or block wall, replacing pedestrian lights with bright LED lights and improving drainage in the landscaped areas.

Designs and costs for the city’s possible response are still in the working phase.

Also up for discussion at the study session is the process for appointing a replacement for Councilor Pam Marsh, who takes office in the legislature this week. Her replacement will complete the remaining two years of her term, which expires at the end of 2018.

A special meeting about adopting selection criteria for hiring a news administrative services and finance director in the wake of Lee Tuneberg’s recent retirement is set to begin at 5:30 p.m., with the study session to follow immediately after. Both meetings are open to the public in the Siskiyou Room in the Ashland Community Development Building at 51 Winburn Way. Study sessions are webcast live and archived at www.ustream.tv/channel/city-of-ashland-oregon.

Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at julieanneakins@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.

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