Thousands of football fans rushing to MU’s home opener Saturday against Eastern Illinois University should have no trouble parking at fraternities, sororities or downtown churches.
Although a city law bars nonprofit organizations from leasing parking spots on their properties, neither the Columbia nor MU police departments plan to enforce the ordinance.
MU Police Capt. Brian Weimer said parking enforcement at MU’s fraternities and sororities is not under MUPD’s jurisdiction and all suspected parking violations would be referred to the Columbia police. However, Columbia police Capt. Zim Schwartze said enforcing the parking ban would be a very low priority for the city’s officers.
“No one has contacted the department about it, and we have not had any indication that anyone is upset with this,” Schwartze said. “But we will have extra staff on hand for the game.”
In August, the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission quashed a recommendation to give downtown churches and other nonprofits conditional permits that would allow them to collect fees for parking on their property.
The commission’s ruling came in the wake of complaints by Lee Elementary School parents who were suddenly told they couldn’t park in the lot at Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 1115 Locust St. The church was later cited for illegally renting the spots, but it was eventually granted C-P zoning, which allows parking-space rentals. First Baptist Church also was cited for renting space in its lot at 1112 E. Broadway.
The citations sparked an uproar from the churches, as well as the MU Greek community, which have historically rented parking spots to generate revenue.
MU senior Rodney Schnellbacher, 22, secretary of the MU Evans Scholars house at 923 Maryland Ave., said the house has rented parking spots since the house was founded in the late 1960s. Each football game the house raises about $700 to $800 to pay for activities and house improvements. The house plans to continue renting spaces on game days, he said.
“We believe they’re (the city) not going to enforce it,” Schnellbacher said.
Kerry Hollander, executive director for the Hillel Foundation at 1107 University Ave., said the organization rents three-quarters of its 43-space parking lot for weekday use. Hillel relies on an estimated $10,000 in parking revenue each year to support its programs, she said.
“It’s the same as selling a commodity of any sort, like a garage sale, that you would use to support your institution,” she said. “We have historically rented parking places in a lot that would otherwise go unused. Until the Hillel board of directors instructs me differently, we will continue, business as usual.”
The foundation would stop renting the spots if the city starts enforcing the law, Hollander said.
Columbia Chief Building Inspector Rich Sternadori said the Office of Protective Inspection has not been enforcing the ordinance because the City Council has not yet taken action on the issue. Temporary permits may be issued on weekends and holidays “for an event which is of city or area-wide concern,” he said.
“We haven’t been out on Saturdays policing parking during football games,” he said. “It’s one of those uses that has been traditionally part of city life.”