Op-Ed: Why I Voted Against Agreement Between Town, Library

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This week I was the sole member of the Parking Commission to vote against the Memorandum of Understanding between New Canaan Library and the town of New Canaan. This transpired even though I am an active user of the library and a supporter of modernization. 

As a member of the Parking Commission my job is to protect the parking availability for all our citizens in parking lots (but not on the streets), whether shoppers or retailers or commuters. When folks park illegally, we often have to fine them. As retailing or commuting needs change, we adjust rates and permit numbers. One constant over the decades however is the shortage of parking of all kinds and for all groups. Roughly 10 parking studies have been completed over the years documenting various shortages. 

The library proposes to expand its building and increase its activity level; a goal most folks heartily support. Sadly, the cost of underground parking is expensive so they have asked the town to give up 76 parking spots at the Center School Lot so the library can have parking for $10,000 per year. This saves the library roughly $9 million in construction costs but reduces parking overall for the town. They are asking for (almost) free parking for library patrons at the expense of shoppers, retailers and commuters. Why should this one group benefit over others? Why should the town lose this precious resource forever?

Others argue that these spaces are under-utilized and virtually worthless, citing parking counts from last week that show ample free spots. Of course there are free spots—we are in the midst of a pandemic and it is February! The question is whether New Canaan has adequate parking overall, such that we can give up 76 spots forever. 

P&Z regulations stipulate that each new project has the responsibility to provide its own adequate parking. As a responsible member of the community, the library should provide 76 new spaces on its own. Additional fundraising would enable them to achieve that. If the library is unable to raise the funds, then they might turn to the town for additional funding for on-site parking. Simply reducing overall parking in New Canaan to assist one charity is not the solution, and violates a founding premise of the Parking Commission. 

Peter Ogilvie

22 thoughts on “Op-Ed: Why I Voted Against Agreement Between Town, Library

  1. Peter,

    I agree with you. It is short sited to build a beautiful new library with inadequate parking.

    Isn’t the Police Station looking for a new home?

    The Center School parking lot seems like a potential spot for them?

    Build the proper amount of parking.

    Preserve options.

  2. Peter thanks for highlighting this. The town should be advised what the actual value is of the approximately 44% of Center School lot (76 spots / 173 total spots) that is being transferred to the Library against the rent paid. That value should be added to the overall town financial contribution to the Library project. As the town may be looking for additional real estate for the Police Station, (and it appears like strong demand exists for large lots in town for development based on the police department story a few days ago) this is not just a theoretical calculation and in fact becomes ‘real money’.

  3. Mr. Ogilvie,

    Thank you for being the single voice of reason on the Parking Commission at Monday’s meeting. While the chair of your committee was pushing through “the new library projects’ proposal… as set out in the MOU”, another Commissioner, when asked by you about the “spots we are giving to the library”, oddly stated that “the spots are going to the community, this is for our residents and our visitors”. These statements followed the library’s confusing statements that “there is no current regulation in New Canaan for library parking” (of course there aren’t, parking regulations are not that specific, but of course there are for places or assembly, etc.), and that these spots would be for “New Canaan community members who wish to go to the library”. The chair made a “proposal” (not a motion) that the “Parking Commission recommends to accept the new library project’s parking proposal…..as set out in the MOU”, the vote was three to one with no record of your dissention except that you did not raise your hand and no “against” vote was taken.

    This meeting was followed up by the equally head-scratching Board of Selectman’s meeting the next day at which when the question was raised by one Selectman regarding how the spaces being given to the library were to be monitored for library use only, the First Selectman stated that “the patrons have the right to park there. The library has no rights over the spaces….” The First Selectman referring to the “paragraph on parking” crafted a motion to “approve the MOU as amended by the [library lawyer’s] comments that we have on our tablets (submitted minutes before the meeting, so not reviewed by the public) by memo”. So basically, with these two meetings, our town officials have approved a new building project (with, in addition to many other public meeting spaces, a 300-seat auditorium) with zero parking including zero on-site handicapped or family parking. I cannot imagine that this meets the parking regulations of our town, our state, or the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

    How is any of this correct procedure? The parking waiver is just another notch in the carefully crafted series of steps to push this project through while hoping taxpayers are asleep at the switch.

    • When the Library’s MOU is distributed to the BOS via our First Selectman just minutes before a meeting, where is the transparency? What about the Freedom of Information and the public’s need to see these documents so that comments can be made before a vote?

  4. Correcting the record
    Dear editor:
    In response to your correspondent, Mr. Ogilvie, I write on behalf of the Library and the community we serve. First and most importantly, we wish to express our gratitude to both the Parking Commission for their recommendation and the Board of Selectmen for their approval of a partnership agreement which benefits New Canaan residents. This cooperative agreement will see New Canaanites parking conveniently near the front door of the new Library, for which the Library will recompense the town at the rate which the Town charged prior to making parking free on January first. At a time when sustainable thinking informs all our decision making, those involved in this discussion agreed that it made good sense to use existing and importantly, available resource. As a failsafe however, the library has also agreed to fund the reconfiguration of the lot in future if deemed necessary by the Town.
    Furthermore, during the meeting while others did indeed show data that is from the Covid period, I provided data and aerial photographs that were collected in a 6-month period pre-covid, which showed clearly that the Center School Lot saw average occupancy of 66%. It is important to note that the Town of New Canaan does not have a regulation for Library Parking meaning that this question is one of collaboration and agreement. Rigorous analysis of all available options, peer reviewed by the Town’s consultant engineer and others, found this solution to be pragmatic and a win for the whole community. As was made clear in the meeting – from a traffic congestion view, with information provided by several engineers, the possibilities for parking underground were not viable, as they would have created a level of congestion at the lights and around the block that would be untenable and a disservice to our community.
    With my regards,
    Lisa Oldham

    • Lisa, Do you feel that Parking Commissioner Peter Ogilvie is not entitled to give his view of the parking proposal reviewed by the volunteer body on which he serves? Do you typically refer to Op-Ed contributors as “correspondents”? Were you serving in such a capacity when you wrote this? Are you being snide? How well do you think that attitude plays in “the community we serve”?

      • “Correspondent” refers to anyone who communicates in writing and is commonly used in this broadest capacity overseas, particularly Lisa’s home country of New Zealand. That would include her own op-ed, so it was in no way meant to be snide. It does not seem she was objecting to a member of the Commission’s writing with his own opinion on a decision, rather correcting some factual errors.

        • Lisa is from upstate New York and I’m not seeing correction of factual errors in her comment. Maybe you can clear this up for our readers: How much less expensive would the overall project be, given a $10,000 annual cost for leasing 76 spaces in Center School Lot versus creating underground parking? Thanks in advance.

  5. I watched the Parking Commission meeting this past Monday and Peter Ogilvie makes an excellent point. The Library was prepared to spend millions of dollars for 80 on-site parking spots, but now, instead, the Town will provide them with 76 spots across the street at about 37 cents per spot per day. Perhaps now the Library can take the savings (the millions they won’t have to spend for parking) and find a way to help preserve the 1913 Library, which they always said they would, publicly, until January 2020.

    • As the town pays a majority of the operating costs of the library it will also be paying its share of this lease cost. If I am right in this understanding we are converting an asset (parking space which generates 3rd party lease income for the town or could be sold to generate funds for the town) into a town liability – strictly looking at the land value of the center school lot.

  6. Look, the town has shown zero new ideas on traffic patterns, vehicle usage, walking ways, general into and out of town usage even though they pay for consultative wrk every few years for a planning and conservation study mandated by the state. The library has a project in place after many years of creative work. The town needs to work on new ideas and implement them. This is not the Library’s lack of planning.

  7. And if the Town is now providing library via the Center Street lot, for library parking, saving the library the $9M of construction costs to provide parking themselves, why has the cost of the library not decreased?

    This library project started at $25M, was bumped to $35M and the last estimate provided has it at $38M.

    Several independent architects have assessed that the true final costs will be closer to $45M or more.

    Wasn’t this the same thing that happened with the NCHS renovation, years ago?

  8. I, too, attended last Monday’s Parking Commission meeting.

    I anticipated that the remarkable aspects of this “choreographed” meeting would be the presentations of its key participants as they built up to the meeting’s unsurprising denoument. But, this was not the case.

    The truly remarkable aspect of this meeting was the keen listening, thoughtful analysis and ultimate discernment of Commissioner Ogilvie, who informed all attendees by so doing.

    Important additional elements pointed up, directly or indirectly, by Mr. Ogilvie were:

    The presently located and configured, approximately 40,000 square foot New Canaan Library has 63 parking spaces on its campus, with entrances and/or exits from/onto South Avenue, Maple Street and Cherry Street. None of these are or have been a problem for Connecticut, the Town Of New Canaan or the New Canaan Library;

    The Town Of New Canaan’s Center School Parking Lot is at most times reasonably and not fully occupied, has more landscaping elements (trees, bushes, lawn buffers and dividers) than all downtown parking lots, and has conveniently accommodated the well known and strongly patronized seasonal New Canaan Farmers Market. This Center School Parking Lot has not been, until Monday’s Parking Commission meeting, a Town problem;

    Beginning with its unveiling of its plan for a new, approximately 48,000 square foot new New Canaan Library complex, the New Canaan Library has proudly highlighted that it would provide ample (100+) beneath-new-building parking spaces, with entrances/exits from/onto Maple Street and Main Street. New Canaan Library and its architect consistently included this important feature at a known cost of $110,000+ per parking space within their initially stated $30 million total project cost, later increased to $35 million total project cost, shortly later yet increased to $36.6 million total project cost. While the proposed new library complex removed its extant South Avenue and Cherry Street parking access/exit points, the New Canaan Library charged ahead with its under-new-building parking lot–no problem;

    New Canaan Library subsequently engaged consultants. These consultants determined that the new building complex’s under-building parking facilities, as architected, were problematic, in that one entrance/exit was to be from and onto Main Street. New Canaan Library engaged more consultants, which developed nine alternative under-new-building parking plans. NCL informed us that it could not accept any of the nine remedial under-new-building parking plans. It is NCL’s rejection of all nine remedial under-new-building parking plans and failure to re-configure the proposed new building complex to provide for its own parking needs that is THE NCL PROBLEM;

    NCL proceeded to make THE NCL PROBLEM a Town Of New Canaan Problem. Certain hapless, yet well intended, Town officials answered this put-upon our Town NCL PROBLEM by deeming the Center School Parking Lot a problem, and by dedicating to NCL in perpetuity 76 surface parking spaces, at de minimus annual rent. This had the cascading effects of the hasty forced relocation of the seasonal New Canaan Farmers Market from its longstanding Center School Parking Lot location; and, most remarkably

    Nearly knocking unconscious most meeting participants and attendees (except Mr. Ogilvie), with NCL’s dramatic new total project cost math. Relieved of its $10+ million formerly carried under-new-building parking cost component, NCL managed to INCREASE its new library building complex total project cost to a new record: $38 million !!!

    Only in New Canaan, Mr. Ogilvie, is the foregoing apparently NOT a problem.

    Sincerely,

    Charles L. Robinson

  9. Peter thank you for your intellectual honesty. A trait that apparently is in short supply with the town library leadership. The process of introducing a major change to their new building plan has been less that transparent. A last minute Monday afternoon meeting likely designed to minimize public input was a great disservice to the community that the library serves. The end does not justify the means.

    I have lived in New Canaan for 30 years and a major town issue in each of those years is a lack of municipal parking. One of the main reasons that I supported Kevin Moynihan when he ran for First Selectman in 2017 was has apparent understanding of the parking issue and the need to solve it. As Kevin said himself on the day that he announced his candidacy at the Lumber Yard parking lot:
    “Rob’s priorities for parking are Town Hall employee parking and my priorities—because I really think it’s related to the real estate market and the attractiveness of the town to young families from Manhattan—is commuter parking,” .
    “We have an issue where we don’t have a high vacancy rate, but a lot of the businesses are suffering, partially related to parking,” he said. “If people can’t conveniently get to the shops or restaurants, they get frustrated, stop coming or go elsewhere. A number of businesses in town are struggling.”

    I am a supporter of the new library but not at the expense of 76 municipal parking spaces. It doesn’t take a parking engineer to see that the proposed parking plan creates a dangerous traffic situation for both drivers and walkers on Maple Street. Anyone who has been to The Farmers Market on a busy summer Saturday would understand. Typically there is at least 3 people directing traffic so visitors can safely cross the street. Ms Oldham touted the handicap parking as a benefit to the new plan. What she is now asking is for the handicapped to cross a busy street to be able access the library. Based on the current location of the handicapped parking at Center Lot she also is asking for the handicapped to back their cars into what is the main egress for the lot. Cars turning in, cars backing out and pedestrians walking to the library all in same area is a recipe for disaster.

    I urge town leadership to reconsider this ill conceived plan. If the town is going to proceed with giving the library 76 municipal spaces than there needs to be an offset. Since the library is saving $10 million dollars by not having the underground garage, the town should repurpose the $10 million dollars they were planning on giving the library and use it towards building a parking garage on Locust Avenue. That would be a win win for all.

  10. Thank you, Peter, for clearly taking your responsibility seriously. Obviously there are many questions relative to NCL plans which should be addressed in an unhurried, painstaking manner. These questions include the designation of the Center School Lot parking spaces for the new Library, as well as the fate of the beloved 1913 building. These decisions should not be railroaded through a vote at hastily called meetings , under cover and virtual ‘dark of night.’ There is too much at stake and, given that the town/taxpayers contribute the majority of the NCL operating costs, more transparency, and less arrogance, is warranted.

  11. What about an above ground parking garage as are common options? I have heard how expensive underground parking garages are but not the alternative.

  12. The Town should trade the Center School Lot for the current Library property, and new library should be built at the Center School Lot with underground parking. With ownership of the current library lot, the Town can build underground parking close to the the town center and cover the parking with a great lawn public space where the farmers market and summer theater can take place. The current library parking spaces that exit onto Maple Street can remain at no cost to the Town. I have proposed this solution to the Town Council and Board of Selectman and have gotten no reply.

  13. If you go to google maps and type in this parking lot (the image taken from above of this parking lot pre-pandemic) shows not many parking spots left to be had. It seems many questions have not been answered/addressed in this whole process to the public. – if it was me –
    1st… I would leave and keep 1913 part where it is.
    2nd… let the library build the new library with underground parking able to fill there needs now and for the future.
    3rd… build more parking downtown – Maybe a parking garage at the lumberyard lot – I think that’s way over due anyways – could even put the schools buses in the basement of the new garage – and solve that problem as-well.

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