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City, Post 29 at odds over parking issues

ELKINS — American Legion Post 29 officials and the city of Elkins are moving toward a head-on collision over parking changes on Railroad Avenue.

The city moved last fall to eliminate parking along the street for safety issues and to ensure the city is meeting national standards concerning streets.

“I think they thought we would just take it and lay down,” American Legion District Commander Donnie Lambert said Friday.

Lambert said the Legion received a letter on July 20 that the city would begin enforcing the parking restriction.

Sutton Stokes, city of Elkins external affairs specialist, said the city began receiving negative feedback on the change when it was announced the city would begin enforcing parking laws again, after suspending issuing citations when a state of emergency was declared in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stokes added the city’s parking enforcement officer was deemed a non-essential employee at the beginning of the pandemic and was not working for several months.

Lambert said Legion officials wrote a letter to the city explaining their concerns with eliminating the parking spots in front of Post 29. He said the letter was hand-delivered to Elkins Mayor Van Broughton and included recommendations to the city.

He said the letter asked for a handicap parking space in front of the building and noted several business throughout the downtown area have handicap spots in front of their buildings.

Lambert said the loss of the parking space is affecting the business at the bar inside Post 29, as well as hindering some veterans’ ability to attend meetings at the facility. He said Post 29 hosts a PTSD meeting on Wednesday and the lack of parking in front of the building is keeping some veterans from attending,

“Parking in front of the building makes it easier,” he said. “If they don’t have the parking they don’t want to attend.”

Lambert said the parking issues are being blamed on the Legion, but he believes the issues prompting the parking changes were happening ore near the Elkins Depot Welcome Center.

“We are being blamed for the parking issues,” he said. “We feel we are being punished. “We want to know an explanation.”

The decision to eliminate the parking on Railroad Avenue was made during a Elkins Municipal Properties Committee meeting on Oct. 16. Minutes from the meeting indicated that the recommendation to eliminate the parking came from Elkins Police Chief Travis Bennett and Elkins Operations Manager Bob Pingley, who cited safety issues. The minutes also indicate Mike Cardinal with the American Legion was present and shared concerns with eliminating the parking.

Pingley said the decision to eliminate the parking was not done lightly. He said the city had previously signed off on the Downtown Streetscape Improvement Plan and he issued a warning then that parking spaces would be removed in places.

Pingley said when the topic was discussed during the Oct. 16 meeting and it was his understanding that Legion officials “understood why the changes needed to be made.”

“Last fall, one of the problem areas (was) the intersection of Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue,” he said.

Pingley noted the main safety concerns that led to the elimination of parking along the street was the way the street narrows near Fourth Street, and the fact that drivers on Fourth Street attempting to turn on Railroad Avenue would have their vision blocked by vehicles parked in front of the Legion.

“Railroad Avenue narrows at Fourth Street by 10 feet,” he said. “It makes it less safe for people parking and exiting the vehicle.”

Pingley said the safety issues were not just his personnel opinion, noting that the changes are to help the city meet the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. Pingley said the manual is the accepted standards for streets across the country.

“The design there (the intersection of Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue) does not meet the standards,” he said.

Pingley said the city has installed a handicap parking space along Fourth Street near Post 29. Pingley also said the parking lot behind City Hall is available as free parking.

“We put a handicap spot on Fourth Street because that is where the ramp is,” Pingley said. “There is no handicap ramp in front of the Legion.”

Pingley said during the last five years or so Railroad Avenue has became the main gateway into downtown Elkins.

“The traffic has increased over the last five years,” he noted. “It (Railroad Avenue) now gets more traffic than Davis Avenue.”

Pingley said the city did not hear any complaints after the decision was made in October, and just recently began hearing negative reaction.

“It was a real disappointment for all the negative feedback,” Pingley said. “I felt we went about this the right way.

“It is not an attempt to punish anyone. It is in the interest of safety for everyone, including the people who go to the Legion.”

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