Bel Air officials halt changes to parking on Lee Street

Parents won't see changes to parking on Lee Street, at least for now, as the Bel Air town commissioners put a halt on changing the 15-minute parking limit in front of Bel Air Elementary School to a no parking zone.

In a 3-2 vote Monday night, the commissioners decided against introducing a resolution to change the parking zone on the north side of Lee Street between Hickory Avenue and Main Street, in front of the elementary school.

Upon concerns by various town commissioners and a resident, Commission Chair Edward Hopkins urged the Department of Planning and Community Development to revisit the issue with a new, modified plan.

"People park there to go to the park, summer concerts and go to church," Hopkins said.

The 15-minute parking zone became a concern after more parents began driving their children to school because of new school bus route exemptions. The Harford County Public School System requires students living within a one-mile radius of an elementary school to walk to school.

"As more parents are now taking their kids to school, the drop-off is forming a line and it is going out into the street," Kevin Small, Bel Air's director of planning, said during the town commissioners' work session last week.

Small said changing the area to a no parking zone would encourage parents to swiftly drop off their children, rather than parking and walking them into the school.

"The 15 minute drop-off interrupts the efficient flow of traffic of buses and through traffic on Lee Street," Small said at Monday night's town meeting.

The north side of Lee Street allows for 15-minute parking during the school drop-off period. The street allows for two-hour parking during the rest of the day.

Small said even the current parking signs do not comply with the elementary school's new hours of operation.

As of this school year, Bel Air Elementary is a fourth tier school operating from 9:30 a.m. until 4 p.m., but the signs reflect last year's hours, of 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Town Commissioner Susan U. Burdette, who voted against introducing the resolution, said she understands the need for changes to the parking zone; however, she is also concerned about how the changes would impact weekend activities around the area.

"A lot of people park on Lee Street for the Chocolate Festival and to go to weddings," Burdette said. "People park there when Main Street is too full and the parking garage is too far away."

Burdette said the parking changes should also make considerations for unexpected events, such as early dismal from school.

John F. Meeks, a resident of English County Manor, said members of the congregation at St. Margaret Church often use the parking zone in front of the school. He said his church has between 1,500 and 1,700 members.

"Lee Street desperately needs more parking, not less of it," Meeks said. "Maybe more parking could be added alongside Lee Street for the [Shamrock] park and the church."

Hopkins suggested that the planning department contact the parishioners at St. Margaret during the planning process.

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