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Northgate churches face dilemma on parking

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Northgate churches face dilemma on parking

 

St. Mary's Catholic Church administrators are considering charging people who park in their main lot at night, a move that would eliminate the last sizable chunk of free evening parking in the Northgate area.

The church already charges people who park in the 270-space lot during the day, said Glenn Schroeder, director of administration at St. Mary's.

The nighttime charges would help the church recoup parking lot cleanup costs, Schroeder said, explaining that the lot usually is littered with trash on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

"We haven't bit that bullet yet," Schroeder said last week. "We'll probably be looking at that over the next month or so."

St. Mary's Catholic Church and A&M United Methodist Church are among the scores of churches, businesses and Northgate patrons dealing with parking problems in the popular entertainment district.

Bar-goers complain about being ticketed and towed. Business owners fear that the lack of available parking is hurting their business and blame Aggies for taking up the few free spaces with no time limits. Meanwhile, the churches face the dilemma of trying to be good Northgate neighbors while maintaining the integrity of their property.

St. Mary's and A&M Methodist both have parking lots in the Northgate area - 338 spaces and 180 spaces, respectively. Both offer paid parking on Aggie home football game days: $10 at A&M Methodist and $5 at St. Mary's. And both spend mornings cleaning up the lots after they have been littered with beer bottles and other trash.

But the two churches have taken different approaches to parking control on non-game days.

It was six years ago that St. Mary's Catholic Church purchased and paved half the dirt parking area previously known as the "Mud Lot." Schroeder said the church bought the space because parishioners needed parking.

Church members can park free in the main lot, but other motorists need permits - sold by the day, month, semester and year - from 7 a.m. to4 p.m., which is when the lot is monitored.

The church charges people for night parking only during the Northgate Music Festival, Schroeder said. But that could change as the increased evening use pushes church officials to consider charging at night, too.

If the church decides to charge at night, it must do so on a regular basis. But there are security concerns related to having an attendant stationed at the lot so late at night, he explained.

"We have to figure out if we're going to be willing to man it all the time," Schroeder said, noting that it could be dangerous for an employee to be out on the lot at night with cash. "We are relatively far removed from most of the traffic."

St. Mary's owns two other parking areas - 38 spaces behind Papa John's and 30 or so directly behind the church. Both those lots are reserved for church members, Schroeder said.

A&M United Methodist Associate Pastor Laurinda Kwiatkowski said her church simply has too many daytime and evening functions - weddings, funerals and church services - to allow patrons of neighboring establishments to park in one of its three lots.

The church monitors the lots during the day, keeping a record of who is parked there, she said. Generally, someone who is illegally parked gets two free passes. Church officials leave reminder notes on cars and trucks driven by first- and second-time offenders, Kwiatkowski said. But three strikes and the driver is out, so to speak.

"Unless you're attending something at church or we know why you are in the lot, it's not a good idea," Kwiatkowski said. "We've had some students say it doesn't seem very friendly to tow, but we've had problems with vandalism. We have to maintain integrity."

The rules change at 10 p.m., when a wrecker service begins patrolling the lot, Kwiatkowski said. The lot has been cleaner since the church began towing, she said, but the destruction still is pretty bad.

"It's such a hard place to be," Kwiatkowski said. "We don't want to be seen as an unfriendly presence in Northgate, but if you let people park, you just get abused."

• Holly Huffman's e-mail address is holly.huffman@theeagle.com.

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