The reopening of Town Hall, which started this week and will come in waves through the summer, will exacerbate a shortage of parking downtown—a problem that must be solved by decking the Locust Avenue lot and transferring some municipal employees into the proposed new structure, the head of the New Canaan Parking Commission said Wednesday.
New Canaan for more than a half-century has acknowledged a shortage in parking for downtown visitors as well as commuters, and the tiering of Locust and Lumberyard lots is the sensible, minimally disruptive solution—projects that the town should pursue regardless of separate capital projects such as the proposed Saxe Middle School auditorium and classroom expansion, Keith Richey said during a meeting of the Plan of Conservation and Development Implementation Committee.
“Both lots fall away from the street so a single tier could be added at street level, negating any serious concern about having an ugly parking structure—a concern I share, by the way,” Richey said during the meeting, held in the Training Room at the New Canaan Police Department. “There is little controversy over the conclusion. There is no need for another study to tell us this would materially improve the situation.”
He continued: “We need to tier the Locust Avenue Parking Lot and the Lumberyard Lot. These projects would be practically self-funding and, in my view, are the only way to materially improve the parking situation in New Canaan. From your perspective on Planning & Zoning, I hope you realize that adding parking at these lots is a necessary foundation to your plans for the development of the Cross Street and further development of the Grove Street areas.”
His comments come not only as municipal departments start moving back into Town Hall following an estimated $13 million renovation and expansion, but also as officials begin to seek approvals for a proposed $16.9 million capital project at the middle school.
Citing the recently updated POCD—a document that finds parking deficits downtown and at the train station, and recommends expanding New Canaan’s parking supply “to meet long-term demand” (see this document starting on page 31)—Richey delivered a comprehensive view of parking dynamics in town. They included problems and trends as they relate to: a shortage of spaces for potential shoppers and diners that’s created by employees of local businesses, parking supervision, handicapped spaces, loading zones, nighttime parking, commuters, revenue and signage.
Put off during the renovation of Town Hall, creating tiered parking at Locust Avenue has won approval from municipal bodies. No one disagrees that more parking is needed, though it has been an open question of just when the project should go forward.
Ultimately, the town decided to put it off until Town Hall was done, saying it would be too much to tackle both capital projects simultaneously, particularly with the mixed-use structure going in down on Forest Street.
Committee members on Wednesday discussed some strategies to help alleviate the downtown parking crunch in a way that could still work for employees in the business district. For example, New Canaan Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy raised the prospect of remotely adding a single hour to a meter.
Jean Grzelecki, secretary of the Planning & Zoning Commission, said that P&Z long has favored tiering both the Lumberyard and Locust lots.
“It is just a matter of the getting the money,” she said.
Richey said that the Parking Commission has been frustrated that its well-considered recommendations for new parking facilities must vie with other initiatives such as at Saxe.
“Parking is a revenue generator,” he said. “This is well known but it seems to be forgotten [amid] everything that the Board of Selectmen or Board of Finance has to decide on the priority of competing spending projects.”
Parking generates more than $1.1 million in revenue annually, according to the POCD, and that money goes into the General Fund. Richey said that if the revenue was reinvested in parking facilities, as it is in communities such as Greenwich, then that money “would pay for the entire proposed Locust Lot expansion in less than three years. “
“We could also tier the Lumberyard Lot and pay for that out of Parking Revenue in three or four years,” Richey said.
P&Z Chairman John Goodwin, who was in the audience at the meeting, noted that under Richey’s plan some 50 Town Hall employees would park in the decked Locust Avenue lot, meaning there would be no “payback” for the town.
Richey responded that he figured there would be 89 new spots at a decked Locust lot, and that some 39 would come over from Town Hall. That would leave 50 spots that could be sold either to residents or nonresidents, commuters and workers alike, for $1,000 or even $2,000 per year. It’s not a stretch to think people would pay those fees, Richey said, noting that some motorists already are paying $100 per month to park at gas stations.
Here’s a full transcription of Richey’s comments at Wednesday’s meeting (the POCD that Richey refers to is here):