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Parking matters: Liberty Square, Norwalk Now, and the Butler Street area

Norwalk citizens in September learn about plans for Liberty Square during an information session at the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s Walk Bridge outreach office in SoNo.

NORWALK, Conn. – Some parking issues for you:

  • ‘Community fights back to keep free parking at Liberty Square’
  • Explaining the Parking Authority’s ‘Norwalk Now’
  • Butler Street parking ban expected

 

Liberty Square plan debated

An online petition drive attracted more than 250 signatures from Norwalkers opposed to the Norwalk Parking Authority’s plan to charge people to park in Liberty Square, according to a mid-December press release from Debora Goldstein, who is also Third Taxing District Commissioner.

The petitions, which along with off-line efforts gathered more than 300 signatures, were delivered to the Board of Estimate and Taxation, the Parking Authority and the Common Council in hopes of changing planned parking fees which go into effect in February 2019, the press release said.

“The petition recommends that maintenance costs be covered solely through fines and penalties levied against those who fail to observe parking time limits set by the authority,” the release said.  Liberty Square resident Johnnie Mae Weldon is quoted as saying: “When the City first came up with the plan, it was not understood that regulating and maintaining the parking area would require charging the very people who rely on the parking. Over many, many meetings, the Norwalk Parking Authority declined to say what it planned to charge. Only now has it become clear how much of a threat this plan is to the success of this area.”

Norwalk Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert on Thursday said the Parking Authority’s Liberty Square plans were inspired in 2017 by then-Norwalk Department of Public Works Director Bruce Chimento, who recommended that the Authority take over the maintenance, management and improvements needed at Liberty Square, which has been ignored “for decades.”

Petition supporters “recognize that this unnecessary burden will only serve to worsen the impacts in an area that is already threatened by the Walk Bridge replacement and associated projects,” according to the release.  Part of the impetus for Chimento’s suggestion was his concern that workers doing construction on the Walk Bridge would park in Liberty Square all day with no penalty, according to Hebert.

Commuters have parked there all day and there have even been abandoned vehicles, Hebert said.  She added that staff members recently observed four or five cars arrive at once and park at Liberty Square, after which the drivers piled into another vehicle which headed towards the South Norwalk railroad station.

There’s a nearby landscaping business with employees who park in Liberty Square, and other people leave their cars there and walk over to Veterans Park, she said.

The Parking Authority has added spaces, including three that allow people to park free for 15 minutes, she said. Permits are $25 a month for residents and workers, who need to document their status to get the permit.  The parking fee will be 50 cents an hour for visitors.  The Authority didn’t want to impose the higher fees found at other locations because parking in Liberty Square has been free for so long, Hebert said.

Mayor Harry Rilling said in an email that he’s been in contact with Authority Chairman Dick Brescia regarding the changes.  “There are many things still being discussed relative to the new parking regulations. As with any new program, if there are problems that are unforeseen at implementation, changes can be made to address them.”

“I too have expressed my concern about residential tenants of Liberty Square being charged for parking and I am hopeful that they can be accommodated in some fashion,” Rilling wrote on Dec. 23.

“The key to this is flexibility,” Hebert said. “We want to protect the people who live and work there. The Parking Authority’s policy is strategically moving away from negative enforcement to one of positive compliance.”

“While I applaud that the city of Norwalk has finally stepped up to maintain this long-neglected patch of on-street parking serving Liberty Square, I condemn the idea that regulating parking to ensure turnover for businesses and adequate parking for residents and our community park would require charging for the spaces,” Goldstein is quoted as saying in the release.

The petition was opened on Nov. 27, one day before the Authority voted to approve its Liberty Square plan, and closed on Dec. 16.  It garnered 316 online and in-person signatures, according to the release.  The petition signatures were vetted against “voter files and other publicly available records,” which resulted in four being disqualified.

There were 274 signatures from Norwalk residents, the release said, with this tally:

  • 39 from District A
  • 22 from District B
  • 141 from District C
  • 33 from District D
  • 39 from District E

 

“Of the 38 signatures that came from people residing outside of Norwalk, 20 self-identified as owners, workers or patrons of Liberty Square. Others identified as family members of owners or residents,” Goldstein wrote.

 

 

Norwalk Now

After NancyOnNorwalk published a story about a Norwalk Now video featuring Rilling and his wife promoting Norwalkcommenters asked why the Parking Authority was doing business promotion, and whether such activities were appropriate.

When Brescia became NPA Chairman, the Authority did an outreach campaign and learned that businesses – particularly the restaurants, retail and entertainment establishments – felt there was a lack of marketing, so the Authority moved to sponsor a collaborative marketing initiative in support of economic development, Hebert said.

The initiative seeks to promote SoNo, Wall Street, and West Avenue.  Businesses that are Norwalk Now members participate at a reduced rate, and financial support comes the Parking Authority, developers, and the Redevelopment Agency, she said.

Norwalk Now was launched in October 2017, according to a promotional email from MaxEx Public Relations sent in December.

“Norwalk Now is designed to promote the city of Norwalk. But, where this business model differs from other city initiatives is with the focus being on the individual businesses,” Norwalk Now Director Linda Kavanagh is quoted as saying in the promotional email.

“The organization has been able to flourish due to the substantial financial long-term investment made by the Norwalk Parking Authority,” the email said.

Highlights from the first year include “NORWALK CITY HUNT, the amazing race through Norwalk which has contestants solving clues and completing challenges, all at various Norwalk Now places of business, competing for prizes and making their way to the finish line party,” the email said.

The next City Hunt will be on April 27.  “NORWALK CITY LIMITS, a massive live music schedule which takes place in various Norwalk Now businesses and features the area’s most talented musicians,” is scheduled for May 22-24. Also in the works is “NORWALK NOW CRUSH, a celebration of beer, wine, and spirits throughout this multi-day schedule of tastings, food pairings, educational classes, product launches, and more,” and, “NORWALK NOW INST-CHALLENGE, a month-long social media contest where consumers take the lead on promoting Norwalk Now businesses by posting their pics, boomerangs, and videos to social media.”

“Norwalk Now, in its first year, has over 30 businesses on board,” the Norwalk Now email said. “Social media continues to grow, with already 5000 followers on Instagram alone. Print, digital, and broadcast media reach, for both regional and national outlets, have surpassed expectations, and social media impressions are a part of Norwalk Now’s daily internal and external ethos.”

The analytics “are pretty substantial” that people 20- to 40-years old are going out in the downtown area, and “that ties into all the development that’s going on,” Hebert said.  She added that Norwalk Now partners with micro-transit efforts and offers parking discounts through the Park Mobile app.

Hebert said that during her years working in Norwalk, “most mayors have done some type of promotion in the city in some way.  … What we are seeing now is an improvement in the visuals.”

There’s another video showing a local chef shopping with his kids, she said.

On Sunday, she clarified further:

“In the past there have been numerous good attempts and energy by many groups and people to build customer capacity in the downtown districts through different economic development initiatives such as a special services district, business improvement district, festivals, events.  Unfortunately these were not sustainable largely due to lack of coordinated collaboration and funding.  I mentioned before that the NPA had responded to their outreach effort a couple of years ago, that a long-term marketing strategy of individual businesses and the downtown districts was a priority.

Part of the Parking Authority’s mission is to enhance economic development and provide opportunities to the community through financially balanced parking programs, smartparking technologies, security systems and community collaboration. They and others responded by supporting and investing in the Norwalk Now collaborative marketing organization to build capacity by increasing customer activity through collaborative participation.

Since Norwalk Now began October 2017, it has seen a surge of growth and great strides in spreading the word that Norwalk is a great city in which to dine, shop and enjoy entertainment. Norwalk Now promotional efforts have made an impact throughout Fairfield County, CT and adjoining states with media impressions of 1.4 million in print, 10 million in broadcast and 400 million in digital.”

 

Hebert said the Authority has invested $300,000 in Norwalk Now over three fiscal years.

Former NPA Chairman Bryan Meek in a NancyOnNorwalk comment said that Norwalk Now seems to be outside the Authority’s charter.

“Bryan was a member and chairman of the NPA when many of the collaborative programs were implemented and very supportive such as the art in parking places, maritime cruise and cuisine, the first Norwalk Lit Crawl and the purchase and implementation of marketing kiosks to name a few,” Hebert wrote Sunday. “He has always been a big supporter of the NPA and his support and efforts as a member and chairman were a critical part of many NPA programs over the years. As a staff member, he was very good to work with, which was very much appreciated and had a positive impact on the business community.”

 

Butler Street

Parking is out of control everywhere in Norwalk, and people are becoming very frustrated, Mae Weldon said to Rilling at the Dec. 17 Democratic Town Committee meeting.

Mae Weldon lives on Orchard Street, in close proximity to Butler Street and others which have been jammed with parked cars belonging to SoNo Collection construction workers.

The Traffic Authority has recommended that parking be banned completely on Harbor Avenue, Butler Street and Chapel Street, Rilling said.  He explained that he had the item tabled so more information could be gathered from area residents to make sure they wouldn’t be negatively affected by the move.

Hebert on Thursday confirmed that account and said she expects the Traffic Authority will approve the ban in January.

7 comments

William Michael Harden January 2, 2019 at 12:39 pm

Liberty Square has now been brought up to speed with ALL the other parking in Norwalk. It is now no longer the only “free” parking in our city. Its drainage system, Lighting System, New pavement, striping, and landscaping and have all been brought back into the 21st century. The secure and proper Maintenance and patrol Schedules have been applied. There will no longer be abandoned vehicles, and bad parking practices in the lot. The city will keep it clean and is no longer a blight on the city.
It will now be used much more successfully, as it was intended, for the businesses and people of Liberty Square. For the .50 cents/hour and 25$ month permit fees, they are getting all the modernization and attention they asked for when the lot was dirty, poorly maintained and dark.
I am sorry it took over 30 years to do this, i for one am glad it is done now. It looks great and i’m sure will be functioning much better for all in the near future as we all get used to it, producing more activity and business for all of the good folks in Liberty Square. A parking strategy that as has been proven globally time and time again.

Bryan Meek January 2, 2019 at 9:51 pm

2nd attempt at getting through your censorship routine. You totally took me out of context from a comment I made in response to another commenter and report it as news here. You didn’t confirm it was me or bother to ask me about it once. Creating news from your comment section you moderate and censor doesn’t seem in line with the mission of a non profit entity.

Michael Foley January 2, 2019 at 10:14 pm

I was trying to figure out which side of this issue I was on but I think the majority of parking used here is tenant parking. Im not talking about restaurant for dinner or lunch or running in to get beer or wine or even lunch which has its time limits accordingly or maybe a haircut. The apartments in these building bring many vehicles , drive by late night or early morning and this lot is maxed out to say the least, why don’t those properties have parking to handle these tenants ? Norwalk is changing and we may not like it but there is not much we can do about at this point when we keep electing the same people over and over again and expect different results! I think the Parking Authority may just have it right even though its not popular !

Bob Welsh January 3, 2019 at 1:14 pm

Nancy wrote:

“Former NPA Chairman Bryan Meek in a NancyOnNorwalk comment said that Norwalk Now seems to be outside the Authority’s charter.”

Here’s Bryan Meek’s comment in its entirety:

“@Victor. Are you suggesting our quasi public entity of the NPA is not allowed to establish quasi private entities like “Norwalk Now” with a majority investment? Who is Norwalk Now, I guess is the better question. I’ll defer to the jurists here, but that does seem outside the charter.”

The prior story and Meek’s comment may be found here: https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2018/12/norwalk-now-video-highlights-sono-rilling-and-wife-draws-flak/

Debora Goldstein January 3, 2019 at 3:48 pm

Mr. Harden (Vice-Chair of the Norwalk Parking Authority),

I take note of your response, which presumably indicates that you don’t view a need to change anything in response to the petition submitted in good faith by Norwalk’s businesses and residents.

FTR, this does not bring this “up to speed with ALL the other parking in Norwalk.”

What it does is elevate this lot, which is far more comparable to on-street parking, to the status of municipal parking lot, by charging for parking.

I commend the City for finally responding to requests to REGULATE the parking there and take care of the lot.

However, there is still on-street parking in Norwalk that is REGULATED for two-hour parking without charging there. This is the more appropriate solution. Just as the city lights, paves and does snow-removal for these on-street spaces; so too, should the Liberty Square lot be regulated without charge.

That is what the petition is asking for on behalf of one of the two central business areas in East Norwalk.

Respectfully,

Deb G

Debora Goldstein February 2, 2019 at 1:47 pm

Given that Norwalk Now seems to have originally been an entity separate from the City until the NPA decided to “underwrite the business participation fee”, is it appropriate for the NPA or Corporate Counsel to be assisting it in applying for non-profit status?

https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/2017/08/norwalk-now-manages-new-marketing-initiative-for-urban-core/

And does “which includes underwriting a large percentage of the business participation fee” mean that the NPA picked up the tab for individual businesses to participate in Norwalk Now, effectively subsidizing membership in a chamber of commerce like organization on behalf of businesses in a certain part of the city?

Marija Bryant February 3, 2019 at 8:32 am

Re the Liberty Square parking lot. It was originally a public street, crossing into SoNo and Washington Street. Debora Goldstein is correct in believing that the city should maintain it and treat it as other public streets – not change it’s function to that of a municipal parking lot.

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