Ridgefield parking lot plan may cut number of spots
Parking, parking, more parking — village business owners have been calling for more parking for years. Adding to the village commercial district’s roughly 1,500 parking spaces is still in the works, but the number of new spaces may be reduced.
Plans for a new parking lot will likely have to be scaled back to accommodate wetlands concerns, First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the Board of Selectmen.
“Probably down into that 35 area, from about 56,” Marconi said of the number of spaces likely to be accommodated in revised plans.
“We’re going to see if we can rearrange everything,” he said.
Marconi spoke to the selectmen Wednesday, Dec. 11, the night after the parking lot plans were reviewed by the new Inland Wetlands Board. The wetlands board had scheduled a continuation of its public hearing for Thursday, Jan. 9. That meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall Annex.
The basic concept is to expand the existing 63-car parking lot off Governor Street northward, toward Prospect Street, into a wooded area of town-owned land off lower Bailey Avenue.
A couple of years ago budget referendum voters approved $570,000 to build a new parking lot, and the plans have been in development since then. They’re working their way through the town’s approval system, which now includes the new independent wetlands board.
Reducing the expansion by about 20 spaces, as Marconi suggested, would mean the combined old and new town parking area off Governor Street offers just under 100 spaces rather than close to 120.
“Is it going to be worth doing it?” Selectman Bob Hebert asked.
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said that “all the re-engineering” would drive up the cost.
“If it ends up costing us $25,000 per spot, that’s ridiculous,” Marconi said. “You can build a parking garage for $35,000, $40,000 a spot.”
Dividing the $570,000 approved for the project by the revised estimate of 35 parking spaces yields a cost of a little over $16,000 per spot — not quite the cost-per-spot Marconi found objectionable.
“You haven’t done enough studies, enough reports,” Marconi said, summarizing the wetlands board’s concerns for the selectmen. “They want the species identified, the size of the trees...”
The wetlands board had asked that before the next hearing the town identify and count all trees over eight inches in diameter that would be lost to the bulldozing and paving involved in creating the parking lot. The board is also awaiting a wildlife inventory of the site.
The parking lot plans ran into quite a lot of questioning Tuesday night, Dec. 10. before the new Inland Wetlands Board, which was having just its second meeting since members were elected in November.
A presentation by Jake Muller of the town engineering department, and consulting engineer Steve Sullivan, explained plans to add to the current 63-car parking lot off Governor Street, creating spaces in the wooded area off lower Bailey Avenue for another 56 cars.
“It’s basically an extension of the existing parking,” Sullivan said.
Wetlands board chairman Pat Sesto wondered how the town had arrived at the number of spaces it was adding.
“We were looking to add as many spaces as possible,” Muller said.
Muller said there was an early design expected to add 66 new parking spaces, but as the proposal ran into various problems the designers went through a series of drafts the number of new parking spaces was reduced to the 56 he presented to the wetlands board.
“We’ve reduced the grading, the wall height, and the number of spaces,” Muller said.
Parking lot counts
Wetlands board member Alan Pilch had visited the existing Governor Street parking lot and counted how many of its spaces 63 spaces were in use on a number of recent occasions. A visit on Nov. 29, “Black Friday” of the Thanksgiving weekend, found 26 of the spaces unoccupied.
At 10 a.m. on Nov. 30 — the Saturday morning after Black Friday — only “three spaces were occupied” and the rest were empty, Pilch said. On Friday, Dec. 6, at 11:33 a.m. 23 spaces were empty.
“I was there the Saturday of the Holiday Stroll, and they were all occupied,” Pilch said. He later clarified that on that visit, Dec. 7 at 10 a.m., there was one handicapped space open — though the rest of the lot was full.
But the stroll is one of the biggest events on the town’s calendar.
“The utilization isn’t huge,” Pilch said of the 63-car lot that’ the town proposed expanding.
“There are people who would disagree with you,” said First Selectman Rudy Marconi, who was in attendance at the wetlands board meeting.
Marconi did tell the wetlands board that opinions in town on the need for more parking are mixed.
“To this day, there are people who say ‘Yes, you do’ ‘No, you don’t,’ ” he said.
Marconi added the idea of adding parking spaces around the village was supported by “the merchants, overwhelmingly.”
The concept behind the new lot is to open up more parking close to village businesses by having employees park the new lot — including people who work in town hall.
“We have about 35 employees,” Marconi said. “We have to lead by example. We can’t tell other people to do it and then take the best spaces in town.”
Trees coming down
At the wetlands board’s Jan. 9 extension the public hearing on the parking lot, a report from landscape architect Kate Throckmorton of Environmental Land Solutions will be added to the information in the town’s presentation.
Wetlands board members expressed concern about losing one of the last patches of woodlands and wildlife habitat in the center of town, with all the tree-cutting, bull-dozing and paving that would be needed to create the proposed parking lot.
“The number of trees having to come down is troubling,” wetlands board chairwoman Pat Sesto said.
Wetlands board member Tracey Miller was also worried about the loss of animal habitat and trees.
She asked the town for a wildlife inventory that would trace the species living on the property. The inventory would also include identification of all trees over eight inches in diameter that would be removed to make way for the parking lot expansion.
“I just wanted to make sure the wildlife inventory would be part the report,” Miller said.
The stream that is the wetland of concern is underground in some areas of the village, but is “day-lighted” in the wooded area where the parking lot is planned.
“This is a unique site — it’s a wooded area next to a wetland,” Miller said.
“... A lot of wildlife can live in a woodlands next to a wetland.”
“I feel like this site is special and unique,” Miller said. “I feel it’s important.”
At the selectmen’s meeting the next night, there was concern about the prospect that a redesign to accommodate wetlands board concerns would delay the long-awaited lot.
“How long is it going to take now?” Selectman Hebert asked.
“Hopefully, we’ll get something before construction season,” Marconi said.
However, Marconi told the selectmen the review by the wetlands board, the concerns they raised — and the likely reduction in the size of the lot — reflected a new standard of environmental review that all projects in town will now have to meet.
“Is it frustrating? Yes,” Marconi said. “But, overall, it’s something we have to begin doing.”
“They’re keeping our water clean,” added Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark.