As downtown workers play parking spot 'musical chairs,' once-a-day rule is rejected
Updated 8:22 am, Tuesday, September 9, 2014
As the Parking Commission last week considered a proposal to limit parking on Elm and Main streets to one time per day, it became evident that a factor in New Canaan's parking crunch is a common maneuver among downtown employees who trade their spots several times daily to avoid a ticket.
"It's the most sophisticated game of musical chairs I have ever seen in my life," Parking Supervisor Karen Miller told the commission during the Sept. 4 meeting.
The proposal came from New Canaan resident Jeff Holland, who said limiting parking in the most crowded area of downtown would help ease a lack of spaces on Elm and Main streets. Holland said the rule "works very well" in Watch Hill, R.I., where some of his relatives live. Several years ago, that town established a two-hour limit per day for parking on a street similar to Elm, according to Holland. On Elm Street, the limit is now an hour and a half.
The commissioners debated the once-a-day proposal after a request for input by the Police Commission, which controls on-street parking regulations, but four of the five parking commissioners, as well as Miller, opposed the idea.
Their main reasons included unintended consequences for real estate agents showing the village to prospective homebuyers, residents making multiple trips downtown, families sharing the same cars and shoppers being discouraged from coming to New Canaan by what commissioners called a "rigid" parking rule.
"A mother with two or three kids could conceivably come into town two or three times a day," commission member Richard Franco Jr. said. "Different people could drive in the same family car two or three times a day.
"Realtors might be one the street a little longer, but they're kind of a necessary evil because realtors are important to life in New Canaan," he continued. "And it's no secret that the first thing a realtor does before they take the client to see the house is take them into the downtown village and show them the village because that's what we have and that's what we're very proud of."
Holland called it a "perception" that there is a lack of parking downtown since many drivers neglect to look for spots on Cherry and Park streets or Locust Avenue, for instance, which are not far from Elm Street.
"Much of the parking on Elm is occupied long before any of the shops actually open," he said in a memo to the commission. "There are plenty of parking options for anyone that needs more time, or might return to town later in the day. There is always available parking on Cherry Street, for example."
Holland first proposed the solution in 2012, but was referred to the Police Commission, which he said "bounced it back" to the Parking commission. His suggested zone for the proposed restriction would include Elm Street, between Main Street and the train station, and Main Street ,between the library and Town Hall.
Commissioner Pam Crum was concerned that the regulation would discourage residents from visiting downtown. "Maybe they go to lunch or coffee, meet somebody, they leave for a while, maybe they come back in the afternoon to go to the orthodontist with their child or something else," she said as an example.
Peter Ogilvie, a real estate agent himself, was the only commissioner to support the proposal.
"I totally agree with Rick (Franco) that the No. 1 offenders are the realtors, followed by the lawyers and the construction offices," he said. "Those repeat offenders are well known to Karen and her crew. Finding them is not difficult, it's simply a question of giving Karen and her crew the tools to prosecute them."
"I think your suggestion is an excellent one," Ogilvie told Holland. "It's targeted at the bad guys. I don't think the casual mother coming in to go to Baskin-Robbins is going to fall into this trap nor will the lady coming in to pick up her watch at the jewelry store. That's a silly argument."
But the other commissioners also were concerned about how such rule would be enforced. One way would be through the Parking Bureau's newest technology -- a license plate reader. However, Crum said, it would not solve the employee-trading issue because they would be swapping spaces somewhere else, outside the once-per-day parking zone.
Miller agreed. "They go from Elm Street to Park Street or Main Street to Cherry Street in some cases and then go back to Elm Street at the end of the day so they can conveniently retrieve their cars at the end of the day," she said. "Not everyone does that, but quite a number of people do it. It clearly is a problem."
Ogilvie insisted the regulation would be worth a test on Elm and Main streets.
"I think you should put on the two streets to the degree that we then create a problem on Cherry Street or South Avenue or something, and we change the regulations on those streets in a year or two," he said. "But deal with immediate problem today, see how it settles out."
Ogilvie, who works at Berkshire Hathaway HomeService New England Properties, 98 Park St., said he does not bring clients to Elm Street because of the number of cars and trucks blocking the road or double parking.
"It's embarrassing," he said. "Avoid it. You show them the village from a distance but you don't take them down Elm Street because you'll get stuck.
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