Residents around Morgan State University, fed up with students parking in their neighborhoods, held a protest near the campus Nov. 15. Holding signs demanding their neighborhoods back, a cluster of residents gathered on the corner of East Cold Spring Lane and Hillen Road from about 10 am.-2p.m., said Morgan officials.

“Cars are getting hit, mirrors taken off in hit-and-runs because students are in a rush to get to class in the morning,” said Sydnei SmithJordan, an organizer for the rally. She says the side streets are so narrow that she has witnessed two hit-and-runs since she moved to the neighborhood a year ago. Residents are locked out of parking from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. during weekdays, she added.

“With the current policy, students can park on the street for two hours, and move to another side of the street after,” said the Perring Loch resident. “We pay a tremendous amount of money to park in a place we can’t park.”

Residents pay 20 dollars a year per car and $20 for each guest.

But she said she doesn’t blame the students. “Students are not parking on campus because it’s too much money and the school is trying to sugarcoat having a garage, where students pay 50 cents an hour that maxes at four hours and if you do the math that’s still $250 a semester – that’s a lot of money.”

She continued, “We want Morgan to absorb the fees so students can park on campus for free or make it part of their tuition so they don’t feel it as much.”

The spectacle and the swarm of media attention surrounding the protest caught the attention of the city and residents saw enhanced enforcement in their neighborhoods the day following the protest. It also resonated with Morgan officials, who say they want to work with the community and alleviate the parking battle between students and residents.

“(Parking) has been an issue for a long time,” said Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman. “And we have tried in several ways to encourage students not to park in the community.… Clearly, we must do more.”

He says the tight parking situation “bubbled to the surface” most recently because of school construction for a new engineering building that eliminated 350 student parking spaces. The completed structure will house a new parking deck for students, but it won’t be complete for another year-and-a-half, he said.

The school’s new president, Dr. David Wilson, Sen. Joan Conaway and Councilman Robert Curran met with SmithJordan and other community activists Nov. 17 to discuss viable solutions that will lead to immediate and long-term relief.

In a press conference following the closed meeting, Wilson said 600 student spaces are underutilized near the Murphy Fine Arts Center, inside the school’s existing parking facility and in a Northwood Shopping Center lot. Twenty-five percent of the spaces, about 150, are underused at the Northwood plaza, he said. The school will send a letter advising students of these spaces and reduce the parking garage fee from $4 a day to $3.

Curran, who represents the district, said he will propose an ordinance restricting non-residential parking in the Morgan neighborhoods and work with the Department of Transportation to remove restrictions that limit the time students can park on Perring Parkway. He says students should be allowed to park on this street all day and he will look into enforcing this new rule immediately.

Sen. Conaway added that she was “very glad the collaboration has taken place,” and her next concern is enforcement of these new ordinances in the neighborhoods.

Community leaders, who attended the event, also seemed to like the outcome of the meeting.

“This was a positive beginning and we believe this is the beginning of a more positive relationship,” said Rebecca Hacket of the Perring Loch neighborhood.

Even SmithJordan, who revealed in an interview prior to the meeting that she was doubtful anything would come of it, said she is happy with Morgan’s efforts to address the issue. “We made a lot of headway,” she said. “I think overall the willingness of Morgan to make the changes is admirable.”

Morgan officials say Wilson will continue to meet with nearby residents every semester and continue to encourage students to park on campus grounds.

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO