Planners want new lot before changing parking rules


“I’m not hearing any support to amend the regulations at this point,” P&Z Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti told members of the Parking Authority. “But it’s a great conversation.”

Mucchetti spoke after a discussion Tuesday, June 4, prompted by the Parking Authority’s suggestion that the commission rethink regulation changes in made in 2010.

A loosening of parking rules in 2010 is seen by some town officials as contributing to a parking crunch, while others credit the looser regulations with helping refill vacant commercial space in the village.

The changes in 2010 had freed properties in the village Central Business District from long-standing parking regulations that tied the type and size of businesses in a building — retail, restaurants, offices — to the amount of parking on that property. Rules of that sort continue to govern parking in other zones.

The thinking behind the 2010 loosening of parking rules was that the village is an integrated business center, connected by sidewalks, with roughly 1,200 parking spaces in total. Shoppers could park and then walk around doing errands, getting a bite to eat, going to the library.

“The change in the parking regulations in 2010 intentions were to encourage and invite businesses, focusing on restaurants, to the Central Business District,” Parking Authority member Jessica Wilmot wrote to the P&Z Commission before the June 4 discussion. “This weighed heavily to the advantage of landlord/property owners.

“Appearing to be a win-win situation turns out to have put the burden on the town to provide unlimited parking for these business’s employees and customers, relieving the responsibility of the landlord...

“When a restaurant in the CBD is not required to provide a single parking space for their customers and employees, the burden is placed on existing available parking, which then takes parking spaces away from existing businesses.

“In a way this hurts thriving restaurants/shops,” Wilmot wrote, “and works against economic development and success.”

A letter from the Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC) counseled the wait and see approach the P&Z commission took.

“...It is premature to review or modify current regulations at this time,” said the ECDC “It is our feeling that the new parking lots need to be constructed first.”

They cited the “Governor Street expansion” expected to add another 60 spaces, and also a longer-range plan for 16 to 18 spaces “on the back of the lot behind the former blighted house on Catoonah Street.”

Filling storefronts

The ECDC leaders were skeptical of returning to the old village parking rule based on business types: “...Creating an ordinance that has a different set of parking requirements by type of business in the village will result in another layer of complexity for landlords and brokers trying to attract new businesses. We are fortunate that we have been able to quickly fill the majority of the numerous storefronts that became vacant in January with tenants negotiating as soon as the spaces became available. Negotiations are complex and lengthy. Counting parking spaces when multiple landlords are negotiating in this case with seven different tenants with varied uses would be very difficult.

“We understand that restaurants require a higher number of spaces than most. Moving their workers to the new, free parking will relieve much of the congestion…

“We also continue to anticipate a reduction of real estate offices in the village and the numerous spaces that they can fill. Raveis moved out and we anticipate two more will close or consolidate in the next 24 months. That will bring the previous total from seven to four.”

Parking Authority chairwoman Wilmot told the June 4 P&Z meeting that the new businesses did affect parking. “With the growth, there are a lot more employees,” Wilmot said.

No problem?

Commission members had varied views.

Some argued there was always parking available in town — just not right in front of a specific business.

“I spend a lot of time in town. I try to do most of my shopping here,” said Commissioner John Katz. “I just don’t think there is a parking problem in the town of Ridgefield.”

Commissioner Charles Robbins agreed: “I’ve been here since 1984. I do not think Ridgefield has a parking problem, whatsoever.”

“Ridgefield is quickly developing into a destination,” Commissioner Mark Zeck. said. “...Parking is needed, especially with all these events. They’re drawing larger and larger crowds.”

Working in town, Commissioner George Hanlon wondered about parking enforcement practices that have many employees running out to move their cars every couple of hours.

Enforcemenat, said Parking Authority member Ellen Burns, is designed not to have employees move their cars, but to open up spots close to businesses for customers, while workers park farther away.

“The Governor Street lot,” Burns said. “Our idea is to have employees park there — all day, no tickets.”

The P&Z Commission also got a report from Planning and Zoning Director Richard Baldelli, finding that on 20 occasions over more he counted as few as seven and as many as 38 empty spaces in the 63-car Governor Street lot.

“The real issue is employee parking,” Mucchetti said. “That sounds like something we’re not going to be able to regulate.”