Parking is a perk for the prayerful
To the faithful go the parking spaces at St. Augustine's Church in Vineyard Haven. On Jan. 1, new parking rules and conditions went into effect for the church parking lot, to crack down on people who have taken advantage of the free parking spaces for days, weeks, and months at a time.
The parking lot is off Clough Lane, behind the church on Franklin Street, enticingly convenient for a quick walk down to Vineyard Haven's Main Street and the Steamship Authority.
Signs recently erected around the lot's periphery warn that parking is now reserved for the parishioners of Good Shepherd Parish, which includes St. Augustine's Church on Franklin Street, Our Lady Star of the Sea in Oak Bluffs, and St. Elizabeth's in Edgartown.
"Enforcement of rules 24 hours/7 days a week," the signs read. "If you leave this lot without your vehicle, it is subject to immediate removal at the owner's expense by Bay State Towing."
Special parking stickers identify vehicles owned by Good Shepherd parishioners. Father Michael Nagle, who serves as parish priest, said anyone who belongs to the parish may get a sticker, at no cost. Although several people had suggested to him that the parish could make a profit by renting out parking spaces, Father Nagle said that the Fall River Diocese, which owns the Island's three churches, does not allow that.
"Hopefully these signs will take care of the issues," Father Nagle said. "I didn't mind people parking for the day and coming back, but when they started coming back six months later, the place was getting taken advantage of."
Although St. Augustine's is closed this time of year, Father Nagle said in summertime, parishioners complained they couldn't find a parking space when they arrived for church services because visitors were using the lot as though it was a town parking lot.
Compounding the problem, Father Nagle said, "People were basically abandoning cars in there." In addition to vehicles, other items, including a bureau, also were dumped in the lot, he added. Some of the abandoned vehicles were broken into, as well.
The final straw, however, came when Father Nagle received a call from Tisbury zoning and building inspector Ken Barwick about a problem vehicle that crossed the line from a parking infraction to a health issue.
While doing some site work in the neighborhood of the church, Mr. Barwick noticed a camper parked in the lot. "Before the church closed for the winter, after the last couple of services, people were stepping out of their vehicles to attend services and stepping into human waste coming from the people living in the Winnebago," Mr. Barwick recalled in a phone call Wednesday.
After telling the campers to get out of the lot, he said he observed and counted a number of vehicles that looked as if they did not belong there and informed Father Nagle about the problem.
"The camper put it over the edge and provided the impetus for getting something done," Father Nagle said. "The call from Ken got me going."
On the lookout for a solution, Father Nagle happened to notice a fence and gate system on a property in Edgartown that used a card or clicker system to activate it. "It looks nice, but I would need two of those, one for each parking lot entrance, which I found out would cost $40,000," Father Nagle said. Instead, the parish opted for a less costly solution, purchasing signs for the parking lot and instituting the sticker system.
In the meantime, Father Nagle put a notice in the church asking parishioners to remove vehicles that had been left in the lot for a long time. Mr. Barwick left his business cards on vehicles asking owners to get back to him, and he helped track down others by running vehicle identification numbers.
"The zoning office usually does a lot of things in terms of vehicle removal, but not of that scale," Mr. Barwick said. "That one was a little more of a challenge, because there were a lot of unknown vehicles using that parking lot.
"With the combination of Father Nagle's efforts, the church bulletin letting people know to get their vehicles out, and what we were doing out of zoning office, we got a handle on it."
To enforce the parking lot rules, Father Nagle said a couple of parishioners regularly check vehicles for parking stickers and keep track of what he calls "long-termers," vehicles that haven't moved for a while, by marking the tires. The next steps are to take down the license plate numbers, ask the police department for help in identifying the owners, and then notifying them by letter that they must move their vehicles, Father Nagle said.
Only a few leftovers remain. One of them, an abandoned white truck, was hauled away on Tuesday.
"We don't want to be towing people away - we just want to make sure the extended stay people are extending their stay somewhere else," Father Nagle said with a laugh.