Parking crunch bringing New Canaan to tiers
Updated 8:28 am, Thursday, May 14, 2015
With the renovation of Town Hall nearly wrapped up, the time has come to take on the longstanding parking crunch downtown by quickly tiering the Locust Avenue lot, as well as the lumberyard commuter parking lot, Keith Richey, chairman of the New Canaan Parking Commission, said Wednesday.
"We need to tier the Locust Street parking lot and the lumberyard lot," Richey said. "These projects would be practically self-funding, and, in my view, are the only way to materially improve the parking situation in New Canaan."
Unlike other capital projects, tiering either or both of the lots downtown could be paid off easily through parking permit fees and other revenue within a matter of years, Richey said during a meeting of the Plan of Conservation and Development Implementation Committee.
The extra spaces are also needed to accommodate traffic that would result from the anticipated redevelopment of Cross and Vitti streets.
"Parking generates revenue of more than $1.1 million that goes into the General Fund," Richey said. "Thus, if parking revenue were kept out of the General Fund and used for parking, we could pay for the entire proposed Locust Lot expansion in less than three years. This does not even count the incremental parking revenue that new parking brings in."
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Richey made his comments during a review of downtown parking issues and made references to numerous studies going back to 1964 referring to the shortage of downtown spots.
Plans to tier the Locust Street lot have been approved by town bodies, but could move down in priority behind a $16.9 million auditorium renovation and classroom expansion at Saxe Middle School.
Adding a tier on the lumberyard lot would shorten the wait time for a permit at the facility, which is currently seven years, making the town a more attractive place to stay, Richey said.
Richey said he continues to be frustrated that parking expansion has to vie for capital funding from the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance on the same terms as school and other building projects when there is annual revenue to cover parking projects.
"Commuters are the lifeblood of New Canaan," Richey said. "They earn the income that drives housing prices. They pay taxes, and they earn the income that makes retail shops and restaurants go." In his remarks, Richey also delved into longstanding parking management problems in the downtown, including employees of Main and Elm Street using on-street parking, thereby displacing potential patrons; parking space requirements for developers; backups caused by loading zones, and the relative benefits of raising more parking revenue.
The town would lose valuable parking real estate by adding more loading zones, Richey said, and has limited power to dictate when truckers make deliveries downtown. Because most businesses don't have a back alley to accommodate deliveries, truckers park on the street, snarling traffic.
A restriction that would require deliveries to take place earlier in the morning would have limited impact because haulers deliver goods to larger neighboring towns first.
"New Canaan is not big enough to make such a rule and make it stick," Richey said.
The need for expanded parking is made more pressing by the expected redevelopment of properties on Cross and Vitti streets, which will require more spots. Murphy also echoed Richey's views that parking revenue should be used to expand parking when necessary.
"I think we need to move ahead with the Locust Avenue project, which can be done very attractively," Murphy said. "We can't touch the lumberyard parking project now because it is just too contentious."