Police Commission: Don’t Remove Any Main Street Crosswalks Yet

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New Canaan shouldn’t remove any crosswalks on Main Street until a traffic study is in hand and the town attorney reviews a legal opinion that could preempt the need, officials said last week.

The Police Commission, New Canaan’s local traffic authority, during its Sept. 18 meeting voted unanimously to request that the town attorney look at a legal opinion challenging the notion that a state law required the municipality to lost 13 parking spaces on Elm Street irretrievably last summer.

That same legal opinion—which finds, in part, that the town could preserve some parking through local ordinance—also bears “tangentially” on a more recent finding that New Canaan must lose 10 to 12 spaces on Main Street because they’re located within 25 feet of a crosswalk, according to Commission Chair Sperry DeCew.

“If we had some municipal parking regulations, which are indicated… that could possibly help us with the Main Street issue,” DeCew said during the Commission’s regular meeting, held in the training room at the New Canaan Police Department.

New Canaan last summer lost 13 parking spaces on Elm Street after the town attorney advised that local ordinance cannot supersede a 1949 state law that says there can’t be parking within 25 feet of an intersection or marked crosswalk at an intersection. (A local man had formally notified the town about the statute after it had been repaved but before new striping went in outlining parking spaces.)

Yet the crosswalk in front of the Playhouse on Elm Street—as one NewCanaanite.com reader noted at the time of the decision—appears to be exempt from the rule because that area doesn’t meet the state definition of an “intersection,” according to Richard Stewart, a New Canaan-based attorney.

In a letter to the Commission, Stewart said recovery of other lost parking spaces—at the intersections of Main Street, South Avenue and Park Street—“can be accomplished, but only through enactment of an appropriate ordinance.”

New Canaan “has ample authority and power to partially preempt” the 70-year-old state law, Stewart said in his legal opinion, “by enacting through its Town Council an ordinance specially referring to [the state law] and preempting it in part by an ordinance.”

DeCew and Commissioners Paul Foley and Jim McLaughlin voted 3-0 to request that New Canaan take no action with respect to Main Street until Town Attorney Ira Bloom review Stewart’s opinion and until a traffic study is completed. DeCew said Bloom should review the opinion with the Board of Selectmen. As it is, New Canaan’s head of the Department of Public Works has said state officials are seeking the “immediate” removal of parking spaces within 25 feet of intersections on Main Street between Cherry Street and East Avenue. A local man filed an anonymous complaint with the Connecticut Department of Transportation regarding Main Street, officials have said.

Stewart had raised the prospect of a challenge to the town attorney’s initial findings in March. As he said at the time, Stewart cites opinions from the Connecticut attorney general in the wake of the 1949 law’s adoption in coming to his own conclusion. 

In his March 29 letter to the Commission, obtained by the New Canaanite through a public records request, Stewart said that “in the almost 70 years following the enactment of [the state law], during which New Canaan was in alleged violation, there had never been a reported physical injury to any pedestrian within 25 feet of the crosswalks at Elm or Main.”

Stewart also said in the letter that New Canaan in preempting the state law through local ordinance would incur no increased liability.

“The Town already has in place an expansive municipality liability policy that covers legal expenses and liabilities up to a sizable maximum,” Stewart said in the letter. “If the enactment of a local parking ordinance that partially preempts [the state law] causes an increase in premiums, the logical answer is to shop for a new insurance carrier. No additional exposure will have occurred.”

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