Longmont nixes street parking near West Side Tavern over safety concerns

Longmont business owner Wes Isbutt showed up to work at the West Side Tavern on Tuesday to find a surprise.

Newly installed no parking signs had been placed on Third Avenue between Sherman Street and Francis Street in front of the 900-square foot restaurant that he co-owns with his wife, Debra Heiser. They’ve run the well-loved business, known for its cocktails and world-class cuisine, at 1283 Third Ave. for the past four and a half years.

The business doesn’t have its own parking lot, so it depends on nearby streets to provide space for vehicles.

Isbutt said the coronavirus pandemic already has presented enough challenges to area businesses and that the signs will discourage people from coming into the restaurant.

“You want to try and put a business out of business?” Isbutt said. “This is the way to do it.”

The city, however, said the change, which involved installing eight new signs and modifying three existing signs, is needed to improve safety and visibility. The no parking extends to parts of north Sherman Street and south Sherman Street.

In an email Thursday, Tyler Stamey, Longmont transportation engineering administrator, said the city revised the parking restrictions as a safety enhancement and updated no parking signage in the area on Tuesday to reflect the changes.

Stamey said that staff had intended to notify and inform residents and businesses about the upcoming safety improvements before the installation of the signage, however, due to “some internal miscommunication, the signage was installed earlier this week, prior to the notification going out.”

“We recognize that this was part of the problem, and apologize for not issuing a timely notification prior to installing the signs,” Stamey said. “At the same time, the parking restrictions in this area of Third Avenue are critical to resolve the line-of sight-issues and provide an improved level of safety at these intersections. These are fundamental issues of safety for our residents and patrons of local establishments.”

Isbutt said he’s heard some complaints from two or three neighbors in the area who don’t like customers parking in front of their houses. He said he doesn’t know by name the neighbors who have expressed concerns. Isbutt said he doesn’t believe eliminating parking is the right solution.

“We have no parking. This is our only parking,” Isbutt said. “Here’s where it gets really stupid, if you take the parking away from Third, it’s going to force people to go further into the neighborhoods. Pushing more cars into the neighborhood is counterproductive to life safety.”

He added that he believes taking away parking along the street may influence people to travel faster down Third Avenue, which he said has also been an issue.

Longmont City Councilmember Marcia Martin, who represents Ward 2, where the business is located, said she has received a handful of complaints in the past six months from residents about unsafe parking concerns, including two residents who spoke to her during a Coffee with Council meeting and several phone calls.

“(The complaints are related) to parking along the south side of Third, where the bend in the road is,” Martin said in a phone interview. “You can’t see the oncoming traffic, which is dangerous for both pedestrians and people driving east.”

Martin said she relayed those concerns to the city traffic department. She said the street parking was not an issue that went before City Council members for discussion or action and was the decision of the traffic department.

“Parking on city streets is always a privilege and never a right,” Martin said. “It’s part of the responsibility of the traffic department to ensure the code is followed to the extent possible and to change signage … etc. to keep things moving well as traffic conditions change.”

Stamey said in the email that after hearing the concerns from the Coffee with Council meeting, “staff evaluated the area and posted restrictions in order to provide adequate sight distance and improve safety.”

West Side Tavern posted about the situation on its Facebook page and in a note on the restaurant’s door, asking for people to reach out to city officials and express their discontent about the appearance of the no parking signs.

In the post, concerns were expressed about the city contracting out third party parking enforcement, but Stamey said the city does not use a private party for parking enforcement in the right of away.

“I want the signs removed,” Isbutt said. “I want to go back to the situation that has existed for 106 years. This has been a commercial business for 106 years. Why now?”

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