NORWALK, Conn. — Parking enforcement – a.k.a. parking tickets – should not be synonymous with South Norwalk, John Kydes said Thursday.
“That is an important issue and it is one that we have been working on for several months,” Parking Authority Chairman Dick Brescia said at the Common Council Planning Committee meeting, which Kydes chairs. “… Our concern at the Parking Authority was we were handing out too many damned tickets and how do we abate that?”
The somewhat touchy conversation was a prelude to an update on the Authority’s $200,000 parking study, which started last month, according to Carolyn Krasnow of Walker Parking Consultants.
“The goal, obviously, is to grow the parking and to create a parking system that is robust enough to meet people’s needs so that you are not essentially discouraging business and development, without building so much that you turn SoNo into a giant parking lot,” Krasnow said, later explaining that recommendations might include changing the structure of the Parking Authority.
Brescia said the study was inspired by Mayor Harry Rilling, who, in a conversation about the potential loss of an East Avenue parking lot, turned to him and said, “We have to find a better way to deal with these things instead of by crisis only. Let’s put together some sort of plan that has long range implications.”
“I think an organization like the Parking Authority, like any other organization, deserves scrutiny and we certainly want input from other people,” Brescia said.
The consultants for the study were chosen by a steering committee created by Rilling, Brescia said, naming its members as himself, Jackie Lightfield of Norwalk 2.0, Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker, Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King, Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan, Director of Community Development Planning Tami Strauss, former Mayors Alex Knopp and Bill Collins, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin, Director of Management and Budgets Lunda Paul Asman and Council President John Igneri (D-District E).
“You know my pet peeve, it’s excessive enforcement,” Kydes said, asking if the Parking Authority was going to expand its recent policy of issuing a courtesy card/warning ticket on select vehicles, extending a grace period for parkers whose time had run out.
“We doubled it” on Oct. 1, Brescia said.
A July 31 memo from Brescia to the Council explained:
“We established a courtesy card/grace period where the Parking Authority enforcement officers place the courtesy card/warning ticket that explains that they (enforcement officers) had seen time run out on the visitor’s parking meter and the parking officer had added another 20 minutes. We started this program (which, by the way was suggested by LAZ) in July, using 2 days each week at random locations throughout the downtown districts. The results through July 22nd was that we issued 207 courtesy tickets. During that time period, there were only 13 violations from that number after the courtesy time expired (20 minutes) or, more importantly, we decreased the number of violations by 194 tickets over just 6 days of the pilot program. The value of those tickets was $4,850 (for 6 days).”
“The Norwalk Parking Authority voted unanimously last week to both continue and expand the Parking Violation Courtesy Customer pilot program which started July 1, 2017,” Administrative Services Manager Kathryn Hebert wrote to the Council on Oct. 2.
“This is how it works: on two randomly selected days each week, our enforcement officers scan the area of two randomly selected streets for parkers who have overstayed their time at the meters and would be due a violation ticket. Instead, the officer places a Welcome to Norwalk postcard which reads: “We noticed that your meter expired. Please accept the additional 20 minutes we added to your meter on us! Have a great day.”
“In the first three months of this pilot program we handed out 1,136 of these cards and only 26 remained beyond their extended free time. In other words, we didn’t issue what would have been 1,110 parking violations to people visiting our downtown area.”
Kydes said he understood that turnover is needed, but, “If you have a parking lot is one-quarter full maybe the enforcement should be more lax. That’s just my view on things.”
The feeling has been intensified by knocking on doors to reach voters during campaign season, he said.
“Parking enforcement is synonymous with South Norwalk. I want to expel that, I want to separate those two. I want South Norwalk to be synonymous with nightlife and fine dining,” Kydes said.
The grace period has been increased from five minutes to 10, Brescia said.
“Mr. Kydes isn’t the only one who is being inundated with complaints,” Igneri said, explaining that friends from Fairfield and Weston don’t want to go to SoNo.
“They want to meet in other communities where parking is fairly stringent but they felt more comfortable there,” Igneri said.
“They are not things that are new to us they are things we have been working on for a long period of time,” Brescia said.
Krasnow went on to explain the study.
“The study is divided roughly into three sections. One is data collection and research, and stakeholder input to try to begin to get the lay of the land. It’s a comprehensive study and there’s a lot to take in. So that’s where we are now, that phase of work really goes on for several months,” she said.
“Then the long analysis phase, that’s when we get to the issues we have been talking about, starting to look at the structure of the operation, the specifics of the daily operation, the rates and the time limits, ticketing and how do you create a system that is well balanced for your customers and your residents, as well as issues related to parking demand, towards future growth. How do you strategize your parking system so that not just right now it’s in balance but going forward you are able to keep up with development in the city in a way that makes good use of space, and helps you grow, helps you achieve your growth goals for new tenants, and new owners in various areas of the city,” she said.
Sheehan asked if other Parking Authorities typically have a break-even model, narrowing that down to New England.
“It’s a common model,” Krasnow said. “There are plenty of cities that have other models. I mean, there are a range even within this area. Certainly, there are plenty of Parking Authorities and they have a break-even requirement, they are completely self-sufficient. Your Parking Authority is actually part of the city, it’s not a completely independent institution as they are in some places. And there are some that are really just a department under the city and it’s part of the general fund. We know cities that fund parking development out of the general fund.”