Free parking: Should organizers of events pay for enforcement?
If events are expected to draw crowds to the village business district — whether summer concerts in Ballard Park, sidewalks sales by the business community, antiques shows, barbecue cook-offs, pumpkin weigh-ins, or next month’s battle re-enactment — should organizers be required to put together a parking plan? And, if needed, pay for police or other enforcement to keep some parking spaces open for nearby businesses?
The idea got a mixed reception from the Board of Selectmen when put forward by the Parking Authority last month.
“It will kill events in Ridgefield,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners, who organizes the free CHIRP concerts in Ballard Park on Tuesday and Thursday evenings all summer.
Enforcement — security guards out there telling people where they can and can’t park — was experimented with last summer through the Parking Authority, and comes at a considerable cost.
“Had CHIRP had to pay for it, you would have put us out of business,” Manners told Parking Authority chairman Chris Fusaro.
“This parking lot thing has become a slippery slope,” said Selectman Steve Zemo.
A commercial landlord in the village, Zemo withdrew two years ago from the program in which property owners sign no-money leases with the town, allowing the Parking Authority to set and enforce parking time limits in their lots.
“This is very sweeping in its scope,” Zemo said of the Parking Authority proposal.
“The concerts bring people. The re-enactment brings people.”
Zemo also wonder if heavy enforcement ran against the basic psychology of creating a welcoming shopping environment.
“It also builds in the ill-will piece,” he said. “People come and it says, ‘No, no, no!’”
Fusaro said the idea was simply an effort to address ongoing complaints from the business community by having event organizers think about parking, put together a plan, and pay for needed enforcement.
“We gave it our best shot to respond as best we could to some of these tenants and landlords,” he said.
“They’re asking us for help and we’re doing everything within our power.”
The problems on concert nights, particularly, are difficult for CVS and the restaurants around the park’s parking lot.
“Ballard Park has zero parking. These businesses are hurting,” Fusaro said.
Last July, the authority began managing parking on concert nights — signs reserved some parking for businesses’ customers, and directed people to lots farther away, where most businesses are closed at 7 p.m. when the concerts start.
“We pretty much gave half the lot to Ballard Park parking and half for businesses,” Fusaro said.
“For a couple of weeks, it was working very well,” said Jessica Wilmot, a Parking Authority member who also owns the Ancient Mariner.
Outside the box
Based on last summer, the Parking Authority feels professional — not volunteer — enforcement is needed.
“It is overwhelming, the amount of cars to control on that lot,” said Wilmot. “You’re talking to one person, and three people are scooching in behind you.”
“People are very opportunistic,” added Fusaro.
Wilmot also questioned the assumption that the business community must benefit from having hundreds or even a thousand or more people come to town a couple of nights a week for free concerts.
“As a tenant, I have not benefited from the concerts, except maybe the first two, three years,” she said.
Concertgoers park in front of her restaurant, but don’t come in for dinner.
“People pull up and they pull their coolers out,” Wilmot said.
Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark suggested moving the concerts.
“Why don’t we move CHIRP over to Parks and Rec?” she said. “Let’s think outside the box. This is the third or fourth year I’ve been here talking about this.”
“We talked about this last year, and moving the events,” Manners replied. “It was not feasible and there wasn’t enough parking space there.”
The Parking Authority and selectmen also hope to address the daytime problem of parking permit holders filling up spaces.
The town sells 144 permits to regular village parkers, charging $60 per space for six-month permits.
There are also “landlord permits” that property owners are given, and pass on to tenant businesses, which distribute them to some employees so they can park while they’re working.
The consensus was that this program hadn’t been closely governed, and needed to be rethought — or at least better organized.
Approximately 315 of these permits have been given out, according to town hall, though some are believed to have been lost and not replaced.
The Parking Authority has control of about 708 spaces.
Zemo said the town should start by determining how many spaces there are in town “that don’t have a Dumpster, or a tree, in them.”
“It’s around 1,100,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi said.
‘A lot of government’
The Parking Authority is careful to be collaborative.
“We don’t really do anything in a lot unless we sit down with a merchant and a lot owner and reach a mutual agreement,” Fusaro said.
Zemo remained skeptical of the authority’s idea of making special event organizers file parking plans and pay for more enforcement.
“This is a huge administrative task,” he said. “It’s a lot of government.”
The selectmen decided to focus on a short-term solution for the immediate problem — summer concerts in the park — and take a longer view of the general problems associated with village parking.
“Long term, we have to review this,” Marconi said. “Short term … let’s have a plan in place before the concerts start.”