“I’m going to vote ‘no’ because I think it should be [no parking on] both sides,” Townsend said.
Police Chief Jeffrey Bert and council members said the roadsides became congested with parked cars and pedestrians crossing the five lanes of FM 2920 this spring as customer traffic increased at The Arbor Gate, a garden center and plant nursery located at 15635 FM 2920 on the south side of the road. Bert said the increase in parked cars likely stems from the winter freeze that damaged landscaping and people forgoing travel during COVID-19, opting to make home improvements instead.
“I think this is a trifecta of different things coming together, making it a particularly awful season for traffic there,” he said. “It doesn’t negate my responsibility to make this as safe as I can.”
While the approved ordinance creates a no parking zone on the north side only, council members said it is the first step to improving safety along this span of road.
“This never came to a real head until people started parking on the north side,” Council Member John Ford said. “I think it’s a first step. We’re going to have to keep working on this, and this is not the end of this story, but it is a logical first step in my opinion.”
Council Members Mark Stoll and Townsend said they oppose parking on any stretch of the state highway. However, Bert said businesses can legally allow customers to park on the roadsides as long as a vehicle is not parked for more than 24 hours.
Additionally, Townsend said he questions allowing parking on the south side of FM 2920 for businesses but not for businesses on the north side.
“Are we going to get ourselves in problems with the people who are on the north side and have businesses if we’re allowing parking from the south side?” Townsend said. “I don’t think anybody should be parking out there on those emergency stopping lanes. Everybody else in this city has to have parking spaces for their customers. Why are we any different with them?”
Bert said he recommended establishing a no parking zone on the north side initially, as he believes prohibiting parking on both sides of the road would only exacerbate the issue with vehicles parking farther from the business and pedestrians walking a greater distance to The Arbor Gate or cars making illegal U-turns on FM 2920 to find a parking area.
“My biggest concern with safety was people walking across five lanes of traffic,” Bert said. “We have done many, many things with Tomball Police Department to put up speed signs, traffic control there in terms of writing tickets and traffic enforcement, and met with the owners on three separate occasions to make sure at any one time there [were] always two officers, one north and one south [of The Arbor Gate].”
Additionally, Bert said businesses on the north side have expressed concerns about their customers not being able to turn onto FM 2920 with visibility being blocked by vehicles parked on the north side of the road.
Council Members Ford and Lori Klein Quinn also said prohibiting parking on both sides of FM 2920 could hurt the business, as The Arbor Gate has no additional property to expand on-site parking.
“If [The Arbor Gate] can’t have people parking, she might just go somewhere else, so we’ve got to consider that,” Ford said. “People come from [far and] wide places and go to Arbor Gate and then come into Tomball and have dinner.”
Bert said following the city’s passage of the ordinance, the Texas Department of Transportation will erect the no parking signs in the established zone to the north within about two weeks, as FM 2920 is a state highway, and the city will be tasked with enforcing the zone.
“It’s not a matter of if somebody’s going to get hit; in my opinion it’s a matter of when,” Stoll said. “Public safety comes first, and I don’t think we should have any parking out on FM 2920. ... I don’t want my name associated with something where I was trying to have a business make a buck instead of taking public safety into consideration. ... It’s a good problem that [The Arbor Gate has], but maybe it’s time for them to locate a new location that’s bigger and has more parking.”