Saying New Canaan High School students already park in the area, town officials are proposing a new access road that will be flanked by parking, connecting the southernmost NCHS lot with an unpaved lot that will be improved and expanded to offer even more spaces.
The new access road would run along the same line laid out by the pedestrian path that led to the former Summer Theatre of New Canaan site in Waveny Park and could be gated at either end for specific hours to control vehicular access to the high school, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann.
As it is, the unmilled parking area closest to the water towers yields about 25 parking spaces, or 40 when motorists pull onto the grass and in among trees that flank it, Mann told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their most recent meeting.
“So the thought was to try and basically make the parking a little bit more uniform and maximize the amount of space that we have and maximize the amount of parking,” he said during the Commission’s March 13 meeting, held at Town Hall. “It’s not going to draw more cars—they are already here in the park—we want them not to park so haphazardly, on the grass and the canopy not under trees, compacting the soil and preventing air and water from getting to the trees and killing the trees.”
The plan would yield about 75 new spaces, he said.
In addition, the expanded parking and improved ingress and egress to the the high school would improve emergency vehicle access to the campus, and would help serve new turf athletic fields that town officials envision using as a revenue source by hosting regional sports events, Mann said.
His presentation to Parks & Rec marked the first time the plan was made public, and members of the Commission said they would walk the site and study the proposal prior to voting at a future meeting on whether to support it. The Commission is scheduled to meet 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall for its regular monthly meeting.
Mann said that with support from the Commission, he would present to other town bodies including the Board of Education and Town Council.
Commissioner Sally Campbell said one of her concerns was “the amount of traffic that would be going through the park.”
“The car traffic, if we don’t control the gates really well, because I think in the evenings the park is less busy with people using it, but in the daytime a lot of us have had kids in high school and they are whizzing in there with their cars to park if they don’t have parking on campus, so my concern is the amount of cars that would be coming through the Waveny entrance into the parking area,” she said.
Mann said he didn’t expect Waveny itself to see additional traffic because students already are parking there, and noted that the Board of Ed and high school would share her concern.
“I don’t believe they are going to want to ‘open up’ their campus, per se,” he said.
One idea that district officials may consider is installing a gate at the top of the parking lot that runs between the tennis courts and Dunning field and designating the area as a teachers’ lot “since the majority are coming in off the Merritt, and have access to the high school.”
“It may be easier if the teachers are going through there and the kids are relegated to the high school property,” Mann said. “And the gate would open after school.”
Commissioners also asked whether the current footpath that runs past the former STONC site would be moved (it would go away because the new road would be built on top of it), whether a new trail could be installed connecting Lapham Community Center to the parking lot so that pedestrians could complete a loop through Waveny (yes), whether the “gates” proposed for the new access road would prevent pedestrian use of it (no), whether a stop sign would be installed where the parking access road meets the main road through Waveny (once the lot is improved and maintained, yes), what’s the timing of the project (in addition to local approval, a minimum six-week out-of-state review is needed because the new road and expanded parking areas would be located on top of the Tennessee Gas Line) and whether officials foresee environmental problems (additional runoff ultimately would flow toward Waveny Pond, which is a good thing, and wetlands already approved the plan 10 years ago).
Campbell asked whether the new access road and expanded parking “may be last encroachment into the park?”
In terms of parking specifically, Mann said “there are very limited areas left.”
“The only other one might be on the western side of the [Waveny] house. The western parking lot. I believe it was larger at one point in time. I have nothing in front of me, no plans for the foreseeable future.”