Saying they expect New Canaanites to continue working from home through December amid the COVID-19 virus pandemic, town officials last week recommended pushing back the renewal date for those holding permits for commuter lots.
Commuter lots such as Lumberyard, Railroad, Richmond Hill and Talmadge Hill should remain free and unregulated through Dec. 31, according to members of the New Canaan Parking Commission.
“As long as the town can afford not to charge for these lots, I would say let’s put this off to January 1st,” Commission Chair Keith Richey said during the appointed body’s Sept. 10 meeting, held via videoconference. “Let’s continue to enforce Main and Elm. Because I just don’t see the COVID crisis ending any time before January 1st.”
In its 5-0 vote, the Commission also recommended extending the renewal date for commercial parking lots —Morse Court, Park Street, Locust Avenue and Center School—to Jan. 1. In addition to Richey, Commissioners Pam Crum, Laura Budd, Peter Ogilvie and Chris Hering voted in favor of the extensions.
The Board of Selectmen is expected to take up the recommendations next week.
Regarding the commercial lots, Budd said the town could spend the next few months educating motorists to let them know that starting Jan. 1, they’ll need a renewed permit for parking.
“I would love to use this time to start getting the employees to Center School,” Budd said.
“I am all for keeping the free parking, especially as we head into the holiday season,” she added. “It’s something that we can talk about. We can merchandise to the public and let them know that we want to encourage them to keep shopping local and this is one way that the municipality is behind them. So I am all for that, and would love to start working on a long-term strategy of what do with all the employees and how to handle that.”
She referred to a problem New Canaan has grappled with for years, about how to ensure that free spots on Main and Elm Streets are available for shoppers and diners, instead of those who work in stores, restaurants and offices.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan, a guest at the meeting, said officials have “a goal of getting free parking in the business spots for people who are coming and going for shopping and restaurants, but only charge the business people who are going to park all day.”
“We haven’t quite figured out how that system would work, to make sure that we do the patrolling and enforcement to make that work,” he said.
The Commission focused on that problem for much of its discussion about the permit renewals.
Ogilvie said the town needs “both a carrot and a stick approach.”
“I think we ought to be penalizing the folks on Main and Elm pretty severely when they take up what we call ‘free parking,’ ” he said. “I’m OK with the idea of using Center School lot as a carrot. You may want to give them less expensive or even free permits, but they ought to be permits. And if they park outside the permit area, we ought to fine them heavily. If we could, double the fines. I’m concerned about the Park Street lot, which is absolutely jammed every day that I go by. And those people are employees and owners of local shops. And it seems to me that Park Street ought to be largely saved for folks who are buying stuff on the street. Not selling it.”
Under normal circumstances, drivers using lots such as Park Street, Playhouse and Morse Court either pay a meter or have purchased an annual parking permit from the town. However, amid the pandemic, town officials decided to allow free parking in New Canaan’s municipal lots. (On-street time limits are being enforced.)
According to Moynihan, New Canaan is losing about $30,000 per month in revenue from the downtown lots alone, though the town’s finances otherwise are sound and can absorb the loss.
Moynihan said COVID-19 “has thrown parking up in the air as to what we should be doing.”
“We did downsize the Parking Department by one person, and that was the person who scanned the commuter lots, primarily,” he said. (The worker in question was transferred to the Department of Public Works, he said.)