Colonville Store, CCRC squabble over parking

November 21, 2018

By Pat Maurer
Correspondent

The year-long controversy about safety concerns with the parking situation at the Colonville Country Store at 7047 East Colonville Road have led to the installation of a parking island this summer, which some residents in the area have said makes the situation even more dangerous with customers now parking vehicles along both sides of the road.

Customers at the store have long been parking along the side of the very successful Amish business, most at an angle. The building is just two or three feet outside of the Colonville Road right-of-way.

Shown is the new island installed by the CCRC at the Colonville Country Store. Photo courtesy of Tressa Carson

Shown is the new island installed by the CCRC at the Colonville Country Store.
Photo courtesy of Tressa Carson

Regarding the “island” Business owner Dan Hochstetler said, “They seized our property and made it useless. We would love to have our property back. Since this [island] was installed, cars park everywhere, even across the road. It [the former parking] is far from the chaos we have now.”

Clare County Road Commission Engineer/Manager Deepak Gupta said, “Parking in the road right-of-way is generally prohibited for a commercial business.

He said, “My number one priority is safety. The angle parking at the Colonville Country Store was dangerous for drivers traveling down Colonville Road at the speed limit of 55 mph. We had received many complaints both to the CCRC and to Sheridan Township about the parking situation. At that point the CCRC was put on notice that we needed to do something. So the board agreed to launch a safety study by an outside traffic engineering expert [Prein  & Newhof], followed up by a legal opinion by outside legal counsel [Henn Lesperance PLC], who gave his opinion on the appropriate use of the road right-of-way.

Gupta also noted that recent letters to the editor criticizing him and the Clare County Road Commission from Tom Dunn were incorrect. He also said they have contacted an attorney about checks written to pay for FOYA requests from Dunn that were written on a closed account. Attorney David McAndrew of Harrison said, “The CCRC retained our office to pursue what legal options that they had, civil or criminal, in regard to the checks that they received for work they provided in regard to Mr. Dunn’s FOIA request.”

Attorney William Henn of Henn Lesperance PLC wrote, “The Michigan Constitution provides county road commissions with ‘reasonable control’ over the highways under their jurisdiction.…In terms of whether the Road Commission has legal authority to make its desired changes to improve traffic safety on East Colonville Road the constitutional provision, statutes and cases…provide that authority.”

An aerial view of a plan by CCRC Engineer Deepak Gupta which would add up to 23 off road parking spaces.

An aerial view of a plan by CCRC Engineer Deepak Gupta which would add up to 23 off road parking spaces.

The island was designed by Prein & Newhof, who reviewed the “access and safety on Colonville Road” in the vicinity of the Colonville Country Store.
Katie Monroe, P.E. of Prein & Newhof responded that the volume of traffic on Colonville Road ranges from 400 to 1,500 vehicles daily. She said, “For the safety of roadway users, no fixed obstacles should be within the ‘clear zone’ of the roadway. The clear zone for Colonville Road is 14 feet to 16 feet from the edge of the paved lane. This equates to having no obstacles within 21 feet of the centerline of the road. Vehicles parked adjacent to the roadway are located within this clear zone.”

She wrote, “In order to address this safety concern, we recommend delineating the edge of the roadway and roadway right-of-way for users and to deter people from parking within the right-of-way. Delineation can be done by installing curb and gutter and marker posts….a curbed island will delineate the edge of the roadway.”

Gupta said, “At this point we had no choice but to follow the recommendations of the engineering expert who recommended the island after looking at all options for safety.”

The installation of the island is a method used in other places to prevent parking in road right-of-ways for safety reasons and was placed after the Clare County Road Commission requested a traffic study from the Special Operations Division of the Michigan State Police in Rockford.

In a telephone interview with MSP Lt. Lance Cook of the Crash Reconstruction Unit in Lansing, Cook said, “Any hazard with a parking situation comes to the State Police and Road Commission jointly. We became involved after the CCRC put in the curb. Trooper Brandon Davis, a Traffic Services Specialist from Grand Rapids will work with Road Commission representatives to determine what we want to do.” He said, “We are looking hard a prohibiting parking in the area of the store, but no determination has been made yet. It could take from two weeks to two months. We will simply be looking at the best way to keep the road safe.”

In an email, Trooper Davis said “Together [he and Lt. Cook] we decided to have the curb cut back to allow parallel parking along the side of the building. The curb will still be present, however it won’t protrude towards the road as far as it does now. Hopefully this will solve the issue with vehicles utilizing angled parking, while still allowing parallel parking for customers…If this doesn’t solve the parking issues we will then resort to creating a ‘No Parking’ traffic control order at the location to ban all roadside parking.”

Hochstetler disagreed with the necessity of the island. He said he has always followed the guidelines given to him by Clare County Road Commission officials. “There hasn’t been a two-car accident here in the past 15 years,” he said.

He said when the CCRC was contacted about putting up the building 17 years ago, they were told they would have to stay 33 feet from the center of the roadway. “The building was built 34 feet from the center of the road,” he said.
He continued saying, “About 15 years ago we contacted the CCRC about filling in the ditch along the side of Colonville and hard surfacing it. We talked to Rick Garver, a [CCRC] manager there, who said, ‘Just make sure your water doesn’t run onto our roadway’. We did exactly what they told us to and the [rain] water runs east. After that people started parking there, some parallel to the road and some at an angle, making it necessary to back into the roadway to leave.”

Located just east of the corner of Rogers Road on Colonville, the business, according to the internet, is categorized as a propane gas store. It also carries a wide variety of gifts, toys, and home and business articles and attracts many customers, most on Friday and Saturday, although the Amish store is very successful and always busy.

Complaints about the parking situation at the store began in earnest last year.
Nearby resident Sarah Duncan said, “My concern isn’t with the store, we shop there often. It’s just a safety concern.” She reported cars parking now on both sides of the road especially on Fridays and Saturdays. “I have seen a couple near accidents and one a few years ago where it appeared that someone got rear ended.” She said, “Just two weeks ago I had my two-year-old daughter with me and was nearly in an accident when a truck pulled out of the store.”  She said when cars are parked along both sides of the road, “You can’t drive 55 there. Two vehicles cannot pass each other. There is barely one lane to use and one vehicle has to wait to get through. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a serious accident there,” she added.

Hochstetler said in 2017 Jack Kleinhardt, a former CCRC Chair and a member of the Accident Reconstruction Team, came to him to say he was getting some complaints about parking using the two driveways on the west side of the store and customers having difficulties getting a good view of road traffic when leaving. “We placed trestles and cones between the two drives so no one could park there [and obstruct vision of the road). “

He said Kleinhardt came back later and said they wished there was more open area so drivers [pulling out from the business] would have a better view looking east. Hochstetler said Kleinhardt wouldn’t tell him who made the complaints.

Hochstetler said Kleinhardt returned again with a Clare County Sheriff’s Office deputy and Sheridan Township Supervisor Bill Strouse. They told him it was illegal to park between the building and the road. “I was told we only owned the property beyond 33 feet from the roadway center,” Hochstetler said. “I told him we did own to the center of the road.” He said that later Bill [Strouse] said he misspoke, and said he was not the one who complained but Hochstetler said he had copies of emails and phone calls from FOYA [Freedom of Information] requests that proved this wasn’t true.

Hochstetler said that Strouse gave him a highlighted paragraph from the Michigan Vehicle Code which he said indicated it was illegal to slant park along a county highway and asked permission to put “parallel parking signs only” along the side of the building, “for your sake and safety.”

The sixth edition of the Traffic Engineering Handbook from ITE (the Institute of Transportation Engineering) says, “Regarding parking on a 55 mph roadway designated parking is not recommended…No parking is recommended for roadways over 35 mph. Proposed pavement marking for parallel parking would be designating park areas in the right-of-way.”
“He [Strouse] told me, ‘Let us put up signs and a year later you’ll never know we bothered you’,” Hochstetler said.

When contacted, Strouse said, “It’s nothing but a safety issue. I have absolutely nothing against any business in our township. I have one myself.”
He said, “A lot of people have called and complained about many close calls out there because of people [who are angle parked] backing out into the road. As a grandparent with youngsters near that business, I am concerned about their safety.”

Hochstetler said he had agreed to have the parallel parking signs placed when Strouse was there, but later realized the paragraph was about parking on roadways, not beside them. “I called and told him it was not pertaining to the situation. I said it was ‘hogwash’.” He said he met later with the Sheriff and CCRC and agreed to the parallel parking signs if the CCRC would agree to put up warning signs (slowing traffic) to the east and west of the business. “The signs have not been installed,” Hochstetler said.

Hochstetler cited the first paragraph in section 675 of the Michigan Vehicle Code (Act 300 of 1949) which says, “Except as otherwise provided in this section and this chapter, a vehicle stopped or parked upon a highway or street shall be stopped or parked with the wheels of the vehicle parallel to the roadway and within 12 inches of any curb existing at the right of the vehicle.”
Note: The fourth paragraph in section 675 says in part, “The state transportation commission with respect to state trunk line highways and a board of county road commissioners with respect to county roads, acting jointly with the director of the department of state police, may place signs prohibiting or restricting the stopping, standing or parking of vehicles on a roadway where in the opinion of the officials, as determined by an engineering survey, the stopping standing or parking is dangerous…or would unduly interfere with the free movement of traffic on the highway or street.”
Hochstetler said, “The following Friday, Strouse contacted the Sheriff’s Department with a complaint after seeing people still slant parking. “The CCSD said they couldn’t issue tickets there because installing the signs doesn’t make slant parking illegal.”

Sheriff John Wilson said that isn’t true. “You can parallel park along a county road for a period of time as long as it is off the traveled portion of the roadway and does not create a road hazard.”

Hochstetler said both Township Supervisor Bill Strouse and County Commissioner Leonard Strouse had been sending multiple emails (many with threats and derogatory comments), which he obtained through FOYA requests.

Earlier Hochstetler said he had contacted Gupta at the CCRC and asked him to, “show me where it says it is illegal to park there and I will be happy to prevent parking there and not cost the county any money.” He said although Gupta said he would talk to the commission about it, he was told that Gupta told the board members the plans were to “go ahead” with the island.
Hochstetler said he wasn’t even notified when the island was to be constructed. CCRC reps came to the store and talked to him about how important it is to never have anything on the road right-of-way. “That evening they (the CCRC) had a tractor and brush hog there,” he said.

He said the construction began while he was away on a hunting trip. “Lt. Cook and State Representative Jason Wentworth evaluated the island and advised removal of most of it to at least allow parallel parking.” He said, “There are school children walking, biking or driving pony carts by there to the local school. It’s more dangerous now.”

He added, “I would like to see a compromise that allows motorists to safely parallel park. None of the people involved in this are bad people but they have made bad decisions under pressure.”

Gupta said this week that he has developed a plan for Hochstetler to add up to 23 parking spaces on the property without using the right-of-way space along the building.

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