NORWALK, Conn. – Prices are going up in Norwalk, to the consternation of some of SoNo’s fans.
The Norwalk Parking Authority on Wednesday approved a plan to hike parking fees at its lots and garages as part of a plan to fund a $5.4 million budget – 2.8 percent more than last year’s budget. Parking fines are going up as well.
Authority Chairman Bryan Meek explained it thusly in an email:
“The rate increases, while always difficult, are in fact based on carefully considered market data … a few of which follow here:
• Permits are going up the most, as permit demand has increased 6 percent over last year.
• Meters and hourly rates will remain constant in consideration of our merchants in anticipation of possibly continued weakness.
• While ticket issuance is in a steady three-year decline, we are starting to level off and these fines represent figures in line with Stamford and surrounding towns.”
“We would like to have kept this lower, of course, but certain items cannot be cut,” he said. “The early estimates for storm Nemo’s cost alone represents 3 percent of this current year’s budget, to put this in some perspective.”
Let’s be clear: parking meter fees are not going up. But monthly permit fees are:
• The Haviland Street parking deck will go from $60 to $62
• Webster Street Lot will go from $50 to $52
• Yankee Doodle Garage will go from $35 to $36
• South Norwalk train station will go from $83 to $90
• East Norwalk train station will go from $45 to $50
Daily fees will go from $7 to $8 at the Haviland Street deck, the Maritime Garage, the North Water Street lot and the Webster Street lot.
Parking fines for parking more than 12 inches from the curb or leaving a car unattended in a no-parking area are going from $30 to $40. Double parking, parking in a fire lane or parking within 10 feet of a fire hydrant will now cost visitors $60, up from $50.
While no one spoke against the proposal at the meeting, according to Meek, there were plenty of thoughts expressed by email.
SoNo has gotten the reputation as a place where parking is a hassle, Bruce Beinfeld said, while neighboring towns have more restaurants than they used to and free nighttime parking.
“Unfortunately, the SoNo brand is fading,” he said. “The urban ecology of this neighborhood has been, and remains, fragile. The collective efforts which helped rebrand SoNo as a hip, urban enclave have been negatively impacted over the last few years by public parking policies targeting SoNo as a primary source of revenue. As a direct result, there is dramatically reduced visitation to the district.”
A recent parking study showed that parking rates are not tied to economic demand, but are arbitrarily set by the the budget prepared by the authority, said Jackie Lightfield of Norwalk 2.0.
“The continued rate hikes, year after year, and the aggressive enforcement of parking violations throughout the city continue the perception that Norwalk does not value its tourists or visitors when they come to SONO and dine, entertain themselves or shop,” she said.
Meek had a comeback.
“Some private lots in the area currently charge more for one night than we do for a full day,” he said. “We are increasing fines, but we are issuing fewer tickets than at any time in the last three-plus years (maybe more?).
“To reduce rates, the NPA would be putting the city at risk for potentially having to subsidize shortfalls in the system as used to happen regularly. … I can’t imagine this would be a position many would support in light of other line items in our overall city budget.”
Councilman Bruce Kimmel (D-District D) said the city used to run large deficits in the parking accounts.
“The deficits were indeed too large and indefensible,” he said. “However, is it possible we’ve moved to the other extreme – made it so expensive and difficult to park that people look for alternatives? I know more than a few people who, when the weather is nice, simply park on the Liberty Square lot and take a nice stroll across the bridge into SONO.”
Norwalkers seem to know where they can find free parking, he said, and are likely to go to the Bowtie Cinema on Westport Avenue instead of the one in Sono.
Meek took his own walk down memory lane.
“I remember a dark day in the ’80s down on North Main going to the Navy recruiter and walking through the odorous canopied walkway where the Pathmark used to be,” he said. “A few years later in my college year summers, I worked in DPW when the city was tearing out old oil tanks from the sidewalks and replacing them with the granite curbing and brick walkways and, shortly after, life started springing back there.”
He remembered circling in the Webster lot looking for a parking space.
“Today a lot of the youth, who would have driven down there back in my day and parked, now live down there, with the explosion of suitable apartments,” he said. “Home movie theaters of today are reducing movie theater volumes nationally, not just here. My point is, things have changed and will continue to change. More businesses and parking are coming on line and we are continually monitoring the situation to do what is best for the city.”