Town tweeks parking realities while waiting for more blacktop

Parking, parking, more parking — will there ever be enough?

With the town’s all-day parking lot off Governor Street often full or close to it lately, First Selectman Rudy Marconi says there are plans in the works to add what could amount to another 135 or so parking spaces to the village commercial district.

“As a band-aid, for a while,” Marconi said. “Hopefully our downtown remains a destination for many people.”

There’s one “bird in the hand” on this list: the planned expansion — roughly a doubling — of the 60-car all-day parking lot off Governor Street by the Boys and Girls Club. The money — $570,000 — was approved by voters in the May budget referendum, but there are approvals, bidding and construction to go through. So completion of the parking lot is still about a year away, but it should help.

“Say it’s 60 new spots,” Marconi said Monday of the expanded all-day lot. “Plus I’m working on an area that’ll take a minimum of 30 — so we would be generating approximately 100 additional parking spots on the east side of town.

“On west side of town, behind CVS, about 15,” he said.

One additional area he’s targeting is the Catoonah Street lot where a long-dilapidated house was torn down, just west of the post office. This property is owned by the shopping center that is anchored by CVS, but the U.S. Postal Service has control of the site under a long-term lease.

Marconi is eyeing the back portion of that site for additional parking spaces.

“If we can motivate the post office out of Washington, as many as 30 at that location — while at the same time building a beautiful pocket park to maintain the character and streetscape of Catoonah Street.”

With 30 by the post office, 15 behind CVS, 60 or so in the expanded all-day lot, and another 30 elsewhere on the east side — that’s 135 additional parking spaces.

And while they wait for more planned blacktop, town officials tinker at the edges of the long-contentious village parking situation, trying to keep the peace.

The legally allowed parking time for 22 spaces on the eastern edge of the village commercial district was reduced from three hours to two hours last week. Signs were posted July 13 and more are said to be on order.

The parking spaces that had their times reduced are by the RVNA property and its parking lot, on the east side of the Donnelly building where the Thrift Shop is the major tenant.

Parking Authority member Jessica Wilmot said the times were reduced at the request of the  Donnelly shopping center ownership, noting that the change represents a return to a previous, two-hour time limit in that location.

And there may be more changes coming.

“The Parking Authority is working on time limits and permit parking for all licensed parking lots now, and hoping to implement a finished plan by the fall,” Wilmot said. “So some time limits might change, along with more municipal parking.”

600 spaces patrolled

With spaces in town-owned lots, along Main Street, and spaces in private lots the town controls through dollar-a-year leases, the Parking Authority and its enforcement officers regulate 606 parking spaces in the village, according to Town Personnel Director Laurie Fernandez, who oversees some parking management issues.

That doesn’t count another 20 or so spaces for the handicapped monitored not for time violations but for vehicles without handicap permits.

The Ridgefield Center Study counted a total of just over 1,500 spaces in the village — although that number has surely grown some since the study was done in 2009, with redevelopment projects such as the RVNA and Ridgefield Supply.

People can purchase permits to park legally all day in the lots patrolled by Parking Authority enforcement officers. Permits good for up to six months cost $60.

Fernandez said the Parking Authority is having a new map made of the time-limits in all the various lots it patrols.

Summer parkers

The 60-car town parking lot off Governor Street near the Boys and Girls Club — where all-day parking is available to village workers — has been full frequently in recent weeks.

“Every noontime, I’ve been down there, there’s not a spot in there. Nothing,” Marconi said.

“One of the issues with the Governor Street lot is once again we are victims of our success,” he said.

“The Boys and Girls Club summer camp program has grown each and every year and now is at a point where they employ approximately 30 to 40 counselors to oversee the many children attending the camp. Most, if not all, of these counselors drive to work and have been parking in the Governor Street parking lot.”

Boys and Girls Club executive director Michael Flynn estimates the camp staff drives about 25-30 vehicles — “which is the reason for the full lot at this time of the year,” Marconi said.

“I’ve asked Mr. Flynn to consider the possibility of utilizing some parking outside of The Barn ... as well as a parking lot for about 20 vehicles located on Market Street, which is at the south end of the Veterans Park field,” Marconi said.

Maroni said July 16 that he found the all-day town lot full again, although he also saw a number of cars parking in the Market Street lot.

“They’re now doing that, and it hasn’t offered any relief,” he said.

Marconi reports a positive response to the Parking Authority’s revised plans for Tuesday and Thursday evenings when summer CHIRP concerts in the park draw crowds to Ballard Park — and cars to nearby lots.

“Parking has been smooth,” he said. “There are still some people that have acted rudely when told where they can park. But overall merchants seem to be OK with the plan in place, and it seems to be working.”

Wait till next year

The new lot that voters recently approved $570,000 to build — a northward expansion of the town lot off Governor Street, really — is progressing through planning stages and heading toward the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval process, according to Town Engineer Charles Fisher.

“Our consultant, CCA, is finalizing drawings for a late July submission to the P&Z for a pre-application meeting,” Fisher said July 13. “After the pre-application meeting, CCA will address the comments raised, and formally submit the project's application to the P&Z for acceptance at an early September meeting.

“At the present time we anticipate between 61 and 66 new spaces to be constructed,” he said. “Construction will not be able to commence until after the project has been fully approved by the P&Z. After approval, the project will have to be bid.

“If there is a quick turnaround with P&Z, there is a possibility that construction could begin in late fall with the establishment of erosion/sedimentation control devices and tree cutting, however the bulk of the construction would take place in the spring,” Fisher said.

“Construction would more than likely take three months to complete bringing the completion date to the end of May.”