When the snow starts falling this winter in Peabody – meteorologists are at least predicting more snow this year than last – make sure to get your car off the street in a storm, otherwise you could shell out up to $140 between the ticket and towing fees.
There’s also a $30 storage fee if you don’t pick your car up right away.
The City Council approved a draft ordinance last Thursday for a new emergency weather ban, which replaces the annual winter parking ban councilors finally dissolved this past spring.
The new parking restriction, which is similar to measures in Beverly, Salem and Lynn, only goes into effect when an actual storm is imminent – residents will see those blue lights around the city start flashing and notices will be sent out via text message, email, Facebook, Twitter, cable access, radio and local news outlets.
Anyone who doesn’t heed the ban will be ticketed $50 and possibly have their car towed.
The authority to call for an emergency and to lift it is left with the director of Public Services, Bob Langley, or his designee at the time (likely the assistant director, Dave Terenzoni), while police will be handling the enforcement.
There is also no set period of time when a ban will be in effect – that’s left to the judgment of Langley or Terenzoni.
Both public safety officials and councilors say the goal is safety, to give emergency vehicles clear access to the roadways and allow city plow crews to keep the streets free of snow and ice.
Initially, public safety officials considered a 48-hour ban, but councilors asked Thursday about circumstances where certain streets might be clear shortly after a storm but other parts of the city might still be inundated. Councilors decided it was best to not have any timeframe.
Deputy Police Chief Martin Cohan said the ban also does not have to blanket the city if the stormy weather isn’t.
“If it’s raining on Russell Street, but there’s a foot of snow on Main Street, obviously we won’t put it into effect for [West Peabody],” Cohan said, adding that they can develop the finer points of the policy once they’ve actually had cause to use it this winter.
Cohan said he’s personally seen it raining on one side of Route 128 and snowing on the other side at the same time before.
“This isn’t about fines or towing people’s cars, this is about helping him do his job,” Cohan said, gesturing to Langley.
The council’s Municipal Safety Committee unanimously passed the ordinance and the full council did likewise; the ordinance will be publicly advertised first before the council formally adopts the final version.
Ward 6 City Councilor Barry Sinewitz wondered exactly how the public would be notified of the new ordinance, pointing out there’s a big difference between the old $10 fine and a $50 fine, not to mention towing fees.
No one offered a detailed answer that evening, but councilors said they would discuss it further in committee. Police indicated that in addition to any news coverage, they could send out notices via Nixle, social media and the like.
As for those towing fees, the state Department of Public Utilities actually regulates those in the event of an emergency, such as a storm, and companies are not allowed to charge more than $90 per tow.
There was no set plan last week in regard to alternate parking locations for residents who don’t have the luxury of a driveway or other nearby off-street parking options. City officials, have, however, talked about using city-owned lots or church lots for temporary overnight parking.
Ward 1 Councilor Barry Osborne, the main proponent of replacing the old ban with the new ordinance, said the city should also look at downtown businesses with larger lots, such as Stop & Shop, to see if they would be willing to share some space.
“This is intended for the 1 percent, this is intended for the people who don’t want to listen.” Gamache said, adding it’s not to just penalize people, but those who ignore all the messages to “get the heck out of the street.”
Councilors also discussed the possibility of creating a central tow yard during storms because many of the smaller operators in the downtown do not have large tow yards themselves. Another reason is there is sure to be a learning curve initially with the different type of ban, but city officials are hoping it only takes one ticket to get up to speed.
“From what we understand from other communities… there are more cars at first [that had to be towed] and so they did have to tow to a central area,” Langley said.
“I’m sure that we will make it work. I have confidence in Police Department and Public Services,” said Osborne.