By Brian Maass
DENVER (CBS4) - A Denver City Council member is urging Denver's parking enforcement agency to "use some judgment" when it comes to giving out parking tickets that came into question in a CBS4 investigation.
"I want to make sure any of these situations that are confusing to the public are straightened out," said councilmember Wayne New.
A CBS4 investigation earlier this week showed how Denver parking agents are repeatedly citing drivers for parking too near fire hydrants when city signs near the hydrants seem to be directing people to park there.
"We've got to have a common sense approach to what we're doing. We shouldn't encourage people to violate the ordinance -- we shouldn't do that," said New.
Denver city code prohibits parking within 10 feet of a fire hydrant. Violators are subject to $25 parking citations. CBS4 found that in January and February of this year, Denver parking agents handed out 301 citations for cars that were parked within 10 feet of a fire plug.
On the 1100 block of Grant Street, parking agents wrote 15 citations in those two months to drivers who parked too close to a hydrant on the east side of the street. But about one car length away from the fire hydrant is a sign indicating that 2-hour parking is allowed up and down the block.
On the 500 block of Grant Street, the city put up a sign indicating 1-hour parking is allowed only a few feet away from a fire hydrant. Parking agents wrote three citations at that location in January and February.
"We shouldn't be ticketing folks that are obeying the signs and the regulations," said New.
Earlier, Heather Burke, a spokesperson for Denver Public Works and its parking enforcement division, dismissed the possibility drivers might be confused by some of the city signage.
"We're not seeing it as a problem," Burke said. "Most people understand you can't block a fire hydrant."
And she suggested that those 150 tickets per month were going to people who knowingly broke the law, as opposed to people who might be confused by the city's signs.
"I think its common knowledge to leave 10 feet between your car and the fire hydrant," said Burke.
CBS4 found several places where curbs are painted red around hydrants or where signs warn drivers not to park. But more frequently there are no signs, no paint to warn drivers not to park near a hydrant.
"I'm going to ask parking enforcement to use some judgment here," said New.
He said he is now working with Denver Public Works and the Denver Fire Department to resolve discrepancies and misleading directions. New said he is going to look further into having curbs painted around fire hydrants as that may be a cost effective solution to the issue.
On the 500 block of Grant Street, Ivan Beckoff of Denver parked his car at the base of a sign that said 1-hour parking was allowed. But after a few minutes he noticed that by parking at the base of the sign, he had also parked within 10 feet of a fire hydrant.
"Mixed messages," said Beckoff. "Is it entrapment? Fundraising?" he asked.
The CBS4 probe also found discrepancies between the city code and reality in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood. On block after block metered city spaces have been placed within 10 feet of fire hydrants. Technically those drivers could legally park in a space and simultaneously be in violation of city code.
"And we're going to ask parking enforcement to be on alert for these situations," said New, "and use some judgment. If it's a problem, don't give them a ticket."
On St. Paul Street in Cherry Creek North, one metered city space was set up so any car parking there will immediately block access to an adjacent fire hydrant.
"I talked to the fire department this morning," said New, "and they are concerned." He said for that spot and others, "they'll either move the sign or the parking meter."
The councilman urged any drivers who think they were unfairly ticketed for parking too near a fire hydrant to come forward. Parking agents often take pictures of those vehicles so New said there is other evidence that could be viewed to see if the ticket was justified or not.
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