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Ridgefield looks to create more parking options

December 4, 2018

Parking relief is on its way — though don’t look for it to arrive in time for this year’s holiday shopping season — as the town continues to make halting progress toward a planned new 63-car lot, while also exploring a potential land lease to increase the supply of all-day parking.

The goal of both initiatives is to add a little more to the roughly 1,500-to-1,600 parking spaces in the village commercial district. The focus is on creating more spaces for all-day parkers — village workers — on the outer fringes of the Main Street commercial district, which should leave more prime spaces near businesses open for shoppers, restaurant customers, spenders of cash, users of bank cards, the patrons who keep the businesses in business.

“No matter how you slice it, having more spots in town for people working is a net positive,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told The Press.

To have more close and easy parking for the folks who spend, the folks who serve — employees and business owners — need to park farther away.

So, while Marconi is working to add parking lots and spaces, the Parking Authority is trying to reduce the number of “parking permits” in circulation — which would also mean fewer all-day parkers in the lots patrolled by town parking enforcement officers, opening up more of the choice spots for shoppers.

Both efforts to add more parking space involve land at the eastern edge of the Main Street business district.

The new parking to be built is essentially an expansion of the all-day parking lot off Governor Street, between the RVNA and the Boys and Girls Club, extending it northward toward Prospect Street.

And the potential lease arrangement Marconi is working on would be with Casey Energy, allow some all-day parking on its land off lower Bailey Avenue by the old railroad warehouse.

The planned new parking lot was approved as a $570,000 capital appropriation by voters in the May budget referendum.

Marconi told the selectmen’s Nov. 13 meeting that the plan as originally envisioned requires some adjustment.

“A re-design is what we’re looking at,” Marconi said.

Changing elevations on-site present problems, and the original concept plan would require “a lot of fill and a 12-foot wall,” Marconi told the board.

So, a new approach is being considered.

The selectmen had questions.

How many parking spaces would be added?

“Sixty-three is what we’re looking at,” Marconi told the board. The 63-space target is the same number as the initial plans showed.

Would the new plan be more expensive?, Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark asked.

The cost might turn out to be lower in the revised plan, with less fill needed and the 12-foot wall dropped from the plans, Marconi said.

His expectation is that the $570,000 currently appropriated will be enough.

“It’s a tremendous amount of money,” Marconi told The Press. “But if you look at creating 63 spots, the cost per spot is roughly $9,000.

“In talking to people over the years, if you’re doing an open lot, $9,000 to $10,000, around there, is a good number. If you’re going to do concrete (for a garage), you can at least double that.

“This will be paved with asphalt,” he said. “If you were to build a parking garage, you’re in the $20,000-plus per spot range.”

Marconi said the 63 parking spaces is a target established for the new lot in the initial design phase, and it is being retained for now.

“That’s our current target. That was the concept plan submitted during the budgetary discussions,” he said.

Among the changes will be a connector road between the two lots, which will be at different elevations due to the topography.

Waiting

Marconi wasn’t sure of the project’s timetable.

“We’re waiting for the engineering on it,” he said.

“I’d look at sometime next year to start it. Engineering’s being worked on now. Then we have to go through planning and zoning, the Inland Wetlands Board. It could start the middle of next year, possibly — hopefully.”

The Parking Authority, hard at work on plans that include reducing the number of parking permits in circulation. There are permits given to landlords, who provide some to their commercial tenants. And there are permits that are sold by the town in twice-yearly lotteries. The cost is $60 for a half-year — “less than one parking ticket a month,” as one village worker wryly put it.

So, the authority is eager for new parking spaces that people working in the village can be directed to.

“In order to fully implement the new parking plan, the spaces in the new lot are of critical importance, and its completion needs to coincide with the next permit lottery in June,” say the minutes of the Parking Authority’s Nov. 8 meeting.

Marconi wasn’t optimistic that the new parking lot will be ready for use by that time.

“It might happen. I don’t know. It’s so difficult right now. We don’t have the engineering back,” he said. “I won’t expect the engineering back until February. If we hustle maybe we can get it through it.

“I just can’t, at this point, say it’ll be ready for next spring,” he said. “It’s going to be tough.”

He’s upbeat about the new concept, though, with a “connector” driveway getting cars from the upper lot, which already exists off Governor Street, to a new lower lot on town land where there is now a patch of woods between lower Bailey Avenue and East Ridge.

“It definitely will be less visible,” Marconi said, comparing the new concept to the initial plan. “Also, we want to create the potential for someday there being an egress to the north.” This would mean a driveway off Prospect Street.

“If you’re going to have egress to the north, we’ve got to bring it down,” he said of the lot’s elevation. “Also, a wall would be unsightly — it’s just not the way to go.”

Plantings will be included, with a goal of reducing the visual impact.

“Yes, there will be a landscaping component. A lot of this needs to go through P&Z, as well, and Inland wetlands, too, because we’ll be in the ‘upland review area.’ ”

So, the parking lot project is taking some time.

“We started last fall — it’s about a year,” Marconi said.

Rental deal?

Marconi also told the selectmen’s Nov. 13 meeting that he is also pursuing a “license agreement” with Shane Casey of Casey Energy to allow town employees to park on the gravel area off lower Bailey Avenue, near the big brown former railroad warehouse building.

Speaking later to The Press, he made clear this isn’t a done deal.

“I’ve got to follow up with Shane on it. I was just letting them know we have had initial talks — that’s where we’re at,” Marconi said.

When might that additional parking area be available?

“I would imagine in the spring,” Marconi said, “It’s pretty tough. It’s short notice. He’s got people who use that area.”

He added, “I’m sure there’s plenty of room there.”

Marconi wasn’t definite about how the lease cost would be handled.

The concept is to rent an area for all-day parking by the workforce that keeps the village humming — office workers and town hall people, shopkeepers, restaurant employees.

“A place where people can park and leave your car for the day, if you’re working at TerraSole, or Luke’s, or 850…

“If there are people who drive to work today,” Marconi said. “… We want to be able to transfer people to that location and the Parking Authority will be working on that.”

The initiative isn’t expected to involve much of a construction project.

“We’re really not going to pave it for now, maybe just paint on the stone dust,” he told the selectmen.

Jessica Wilmot of the Parking Authority was at the meeting, and supportive of the idea — especially in view of the initiative to reduce the number of parking permits given out.

“If we take away spots,” she said, “we have to provide spots for them to go to.”

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