REXBURG — Parking problems here aren’t going away.
Brigham Young University-Idaho students complain that residential parking spots are hard to come by. And Rexburg businesses are feeling the effects of bustling campus life, as students drive and park downtown.
Enrollment numbers, released last week by BYU-Idaho, show 20,266 students are attending the university this fall, a 4.3 percent increase from last year.
As enrollment at BYU-Idaho grows, so does the demand for parking, both on campus and off. BYU-Idaho’s rapid enrollment has had significant effects on the city it calls home. In 2000, 8,500 students were enrolled at Ricks College when it became four-year BYU-Idaho. At that time the city’s population was 17,792. Today, the city’s population is estimated at 28,337.
Parking problems on college campuses are nothing new, but student housing rules at BYU-Idaho create a unique problem: the majority of students must live in university-approved apartments and those buildings have a limited number of parking spaces.
The university requires all non-married students to live in BYU-Idaho-approved housing. According to a BYU-Idaho news release, 23 percent of students are married, which means, if every student is following that rule, about 15,500 students are living in BYU-Idaho-approved housing near the university.
According to multiple students who live in these apartment complexes, parking is reserved for residents who buy a permit at the start of each semester. Permits can cost $50 to $75 per semester.
A BYU-Idaho spokesperson said the apartments are privately-owned and declined to comment on residential parking but pointed to a 2016 announcement that the university added 250 on-campus parking spots.
Alyssa Chandler, 18, a resident of Heritage Apartments, said parking permits are first-come, first-served and it’s a “fight to the death” to get one.
Kendra Pettingill, Heritage Apartments’ manager, said the apartment complex has 150 parking spaces for 370 residents. Parking permits are issued in conjunction with housing contracts, she said.
Pettingill said Heritage offers alternative parking at its sister complex and the university allows Heritage residents to use a campus lot during the winter, when overnight on-street parking is not allowed due to snow removal.
Most of the BYU-Idaho-approved apartment complexes are on the north and west sides of campus and are within walking distance to campus, so for students who are able and willing to walk, a car likely isn’t necessary for transportation to classes. However, many students are employed off campus and must drive to work.
Mikaela Maurer, 19, who lives in American Avenue Apartments and has a parking permit, said most students at her complex walk to classes because of the building’s close proximity to campus. The lot is often full (apartment management only sells permits for the number of spaces it owns, she said) but spaces open up when students drive to work.
“There are limited spots here (at American Avenue) but that’s how it is all over campus,” Maurer said.
For students who drive to campus, Maurer said “getting the right permit and knowing where you can and can’t park” is a challenge.
“Parking is usually a hassle for most people,” she said.
Signs, warning of potential towing or booting of unauthorized vehicles, are posted at the front of each residential parking lot. After complaints of “predatory booting,” the Rexburg City Council debated last year whether booting is legal under the state constitution but ultimately decided to allow booting in Rexburg under new conditions.
Maurer said her car has never been booted but she has two friends whose cars were both booted on the same day. They were parked somewhere they shouldn’t have been, she added.
Lucas McDown, 24, drives to classes because he lives in a married student housing complex about a mile from campus. McDown doesn’t park on campus, but instead buys a city parking permit that allows him to park on the streets near campus.
City parking permits cost $30 for a semester and $75 for a year, according to the Rexburg Police website.
McDown said he tried to park on campus for one semester but he could never find a spot.
“I know I have a spot with city parking,” McDown said. “With campus parking there’s no guarantee.”
Parking is difficult for local non-students as well.
Grant Call, 19, isn’t a student but he visits friends who live in university-approved housing. He said it’s impossible to park at any of the student housing complexes for more than an hour, due to strict enforcement of visitor parking rules.
Call works at Broulim’s and Great Harvest Bread Company in Rexburg, where he said there is always available parking but when he crosses Main Street to the south he can rarely find a spot.
Downtown Rexburg isn’t immune from parking congestion, either.
This summer, New York Burrito, a 21-year-old burrito shop on Main Street, closed because customers couldn’t find parking.
“We’ve got all these call centers and their employees that take up all the parking areas instead of our customers,” New York Burrito owner Ron Campbell told the Rexburg Standard Journal on June 9.
Rexburg Mayor Jerry Merrill announced in May plans for a new downtown parking garage, which would ease some of the parking traffic in the area. Merrill told the Standard Journal that the garage will likely be multi-purpose with a few levels of parking and a few levels of retail space.