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Last updated: Sat. Jan. 21, 2012 - 06:23 am EDT

Parking lot squatters prompt fines by Fort Wayne officials

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A lengthy stay at the city-owned Citizens Square building can now get you written up for a parking violation if you can't prove you have a good reason to be there.

Prompted by an upswing in illicit parking at the Berry Street lot, city officials recently imposed a stricter two-hour time limit and this week began handing out fines for those who break it. Anyone can get a ticket, but the crackdown is meant to free up more spaces for the public by driving away local government staffers and downtown workers looking for a shorter walk to work.

“Whenever you have a lot downtown that's free, not only people in that building but other people who work downtown will try to park there,” city spokesman Frank Suarez said.

Though a two-hour limit has been a goal since city and county offices moved to the building in June, space didn't become an issue until this winter, when the weather turned cold and city officials noticed a sudden spike in the number of cars parking in the 96-space lot, Suarez said.

Parking officers wrote roughly 50 tickets Tuesday and Wednesday alone, he said. The tickets carry $5 fines that increase to $10 if not paid within 30 days.

City Clerk Sandra Kennedy, whose office enforces downtown parking, said many downtown workers pay for access to other lots but jump at the chance to trim their walk by a few blocks and avoid nasty weather.

“Let's face it – we're all lazy now,” Kennedy said.

Suarez acknowledged some people – such as contractors or citizens attending public meetings – may have legitimate business in the building that takes longer than two hours. The city would allow those people to appeal their fines if ticketed, he said.

City officials have floated the idea of using parking meters or other methods of enforcement, but they first want to see if the fines deter would-be violators, Suarez said. Of the tickets issued this week, almost all of them were split between city-county employees and unauthorized downtown workers, he said.

A few staffers with the Allen County Employee Health Clinic reported being fined this week and were told not to park in the public lot anymore, said county Commissioner Nelson Peters, adding he didn't know of any other employees parking there.

“I don't know that it adversely affected any county people…that's the city's deal, and I don't think it's affected us at all,” he said.

City-county employees who work at Citizens Square have access to at least four downtown lots at varying prices. The farthest from the building is nearly three blocks away, at Barr and Superior streets.

Shortly after the move to Citizens Square last year, city-county employees received a memo instructing them not to park in the free public lot but haven't gotten a reminder since then, Suarez said.

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