No push for Ridgefield parking lot with folks staying home
COVID-19 is keeping people home — shoppers, show-goers, workers — so the town has put an indefinite delay on its planned expansion of the Governor Street parking lot.
A number of other capital projects are moving ahead amid the pandemic, although some — including $1.35 million refurbishing of the Venus Building’s south wing — have diminished urgency with the economic slowdown.
“That's been put on hold,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said of the parking lot project. “One of the interesting, unfortunate results of COVID is there’s no demand for parking, which certainly highlights the issue with downtown shopping and people visiting our community.
“In addition to that, we’ve allowed some tents in parking lots, as you well know — from The Mariner, Tequila Escape, Terrasole, I think Luke’s has a tent down below, Bailey’s Backyard — all of them taking up parking, 6 to 8, 10 parking spaces each,” Marconi said. “And still we do not have parking problems.”
The plan is to add 38 new parking spaces to the 63 spaces in the existing Governor Street municipal lot, between the RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club. The project has all needed approvals — from land use agencies and $570,000 in construction money passed by town voters a couple of years back.
In all, the village commercial district has more than 1,500 parking spaces. They’re not in the high demand they used to be.
“There’s no rush to do anything with parking,” Marconi said. “When COVID hit and shut everything down, it was a ghost town here. It’s been a battle to get everything to reopen again. And it will continue to be a struggle for many of our merchants to get back to where they were pre-COVID.”
There’s also less push for other projects.
The Venus building’s south wing — the old visiting nurses space — is being renovated so school offices can move there, opening up space adjacent to the Ridgefield Playhouse, which has long planned an expansion.
“Everyone was chomping at the bit, so to speak, to the get projects moving, get them completed, get people moved around. But COVID has had a definite impact,” Marconi said.
“Not only with the schools,” he added. “...The Playhouse being maybe at 50% — I know they are showing movies. It’s had a definite impact on The Playhouse.”
After initial bids for a general contractor to run the whole project came in high, the town is now doing the $1.35 million Venus building project with a variety of subcontractors each bidding their own phase of the work.
“We had a professional estimator look at it,” Mueller said.
“We are now construction-managing it in-house, and we are going to get it at the original approved budget.”
“It has to be,” added Marconi.
Mueller had a few of school projects that needed to be done for the opening of school at the end of this week — including refurbished sidewalks at Farmingville Elementary School and repair of the front steps at East Ridge Middle School.
There are solar energy projects planned at some of the school buildings that don’t already have solar, and Mueller is also gearing up for more roof work at the Venus building.
“I don’t have much on hold,” he said.
The parking lot is ready to go.
“We have approval from both the Inland Wetlands Board and Planning and Zoning,” said Jake Mueller of the town engineering department.
Getting through the land use boards involved trimming the number of parking spaces in the original plans.
“It was originally submitted at 56, we got approved for 38,” Marconi said.
“I will bring it to the Board of Selectmen and we’ll discuss what was approved — they’re aware of everything that was approved.”
Still, Mueller will present the revised plans to the board — though there’s now not so much hurry.
“At this point, I am going to present the final plan to Board of Selectmen as things kind of calm down from COVID,” Mueller said. “We have a 5-year approval for this project.”