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Norwalk claims early success in switch to cashless beach parking system

An entrance to the Calf Pasture Beach parking lot. (Claire Schoen)

NORWALK, Conn. —The switch to license plate readers at Calf Pasture Beach, negating the need for resident passes, has been successful, according to Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan.

Griping on social media shows some confusion among Norwalkers, and dissatisfaction with the new “cashless” system.

“This new process is awful,” one woman wrote in early June. “I understand the need to keep cars moving and to streamline parking fees, but I agree that people take advantage and probably don’t pay the fines if they get a ticket.”

“Are passes still needed for the beach.. I’m hearing different things,” another wrote Tuesday. “I have mine BTW.. But If this is true how do they know you live in Norwalk? I’m confused”

The Common Council in January approved an $180,000 agreement with LAZ Parking for parking management at Calf Pasture Beach, Shady Beach, Taylor Farm, Veterans Park and Cranbury Park this year.

Seasonal staff had cost Norwalk $178,000 a year, Morgan said.

Norwalk wanted to get away from accepting cash from out-of-town residents parking at the facilities, then-Acting Recreation and Parks Department Director Ken Hughes is quoted as saying in the Jan. 9 minutes of a Council meeting. Norwalk had accepted about $400,000 last year at the beach and 70% of that was cash.

The minutes say:

New signage at Calf Pasture Beach. (Claire Schoen)

“Mr. Hughes said they expect to see a 15 – 20% increase in gate receipts in the first year. If a car is registered, they will be able to just drive into the beach without stopping. The beach season will run from approximately May 15th to October 15th.

“Special events at the beach will be coordinated with LAZ. LAZ will provide parking enforcement. They will also patrol the dog park area. The license plate readers will be on the enforcement vehicles.

“Mr. Hughes said event passes can have a time parameter attached to them. Mr. Hughes said LAZ runs all of Stamford beach parking. {Council member George Tsiranides (D-District D)} said he called Stamford and was told that within a year, all of the issues were ironed out. They found this to be very efficient.

“If a resident is delinquent with their taxes and parks at the beach, they will be issued a $60.00 ticket. {Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D)} asked about the procedure when there is an event at the pavilion. Mr. Hughes said they will need to register their cars prior to the event. He added that residents will need to be educated. He said they will heavily advertise that Norwalk is going cashless at the beach.”

 

Signs at the beach direct non-residents to take a left shortly after entering the beach driveway and go into the main parking lot, while residents are directed toward the beach. The gatehouse at the entrance has been eliminated and a new one erected where non-residents enter the parking lot.

Residents can park anywhere, Morgan said.

Again, if you’re a resident, you no longer need a resident pass to go to the beach. As long as your taxes were paid and your vehicle registered before October, your information was automatically uploaded into Norwalk’s system, Morgan said.

You can go to the City’s website and verify that you’re in there.

New signage at Calf Pasture Beach. (Claire Schoen)

“Some people with out-of-state plates live in Norwalk apartments and can sign-up for a pass with proper documentation. To be clear the October registration cutoff date and the process of obtaining a pass with out-of-state plates did not change when the City implemented the cashless system,” Morgan explained.

“Previously, there had been no parking enforcement at the beach once vehicles passed by staff at the entrance,” but now, Norwalk can enforce resident-only parking along the water at Calf Pasture Beach and the entire lot at Shady Beach, according to Morgan.

“Even if a non-resident pays for parking, they will still be ticketed for parking in a resident-only spot,” he said.

Director of Transportation, Mobility and Parking Kathryn Hebert did not reply to an email asking how many tickets have been issued by the Norwalk Parking Authority. Morgan did not address it, either.

“Overall, the new system has been successful,” Morgan wrote Tuesday. “We appreciate the feedback we’ve received thus far on the new system, and will continue to take input and ideas from the public to help ensure we are providing a welcoming and enjoyable experience at our parks and beaches.”

Comments on Next Door are largely negative.

“I visited the beach yesterday and I’m a non resident. I wish I could have paid cash to park and was annoyed that I had to download an app and use my credit card to pay,” one person wrote.

“I go to our beach almost every day and this new parking system is totally moronic,” wrote another. “They have no clear signage as to fees to paid for parking .any signage they do have is confusing. Too many entrances. No one controlling anything .and renting of the tables is so poorly done it’s a joke.they expect people to willingly go half way down the beach to life guard station to pay …and who knows how many tables they have roped off. Whoever decided this new system does not have a clue. Losing lots of money to out of state cars and out of city… ruined a system that worked duh”

“New system is great,” a woman wrote, going on to say that she’d been to an East Norwalk Neighborhood Association meeting where Recreation and Parks staff explained why the switch had been made and lauded LAZ as being “97% on collections.”

“The new system reduces the risk and burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars moving through that beach alone,” she continued. “It will be interesting to see if revenue actually goes up with less sticky fingers touching all that cash. This is a great setup- as a resident you have to do nothing- just check that you are in the system and go park wherever the heck you want! I WISH they had also made booking tables at shady beach a real process with an app or a website and i hope that comes. I do 100% agree that the signage is rough but i also saw that they have changed it since the beginning of the season- so they are clearly listening and improving.”

New signage at Calf Pasture Beach. (Claire Schoen)

14 comments

Mitch Adis June 27, 2019 at 6:36 am

Communication to residents of the new system and how it works was where the City failed. This was one of the best kept secrets in town. A simple letter to residents in April would have been all that was needed. Otherwise this new system works fine. The next step is to jack up non-resident fees. Based on the volume of non-residents, we are leaving money on the table.

Bryan Meek June 27, 2019 at 8:49 am

Cash management systems are not difficult to operate without loss, if you know what you are doing. Reverse angle LPR and a numbered voucher system where the gatekeeper is accountable for the numbers isn’t that difficult if you try.

I wonder if Josh Morgan was at the beach last night and how long it took him to get from the entrance to a parking space. Took me over 10 minutes and I know where I’m going, unlike most of the out of town plates who will figure out that they never have to actually pay to use our beach anymore.

Non residents get to drive right up…..if you actually pay for the beach you have to drive all the way around only to find NY plates taking up all the good spots.

This is a complete joke and a slap in the face to every taxpayer.

Diane Lauricella June 27, 2019 at 9:58 am

This process needs to be tweaked as I visited the beach last week and for 2 hours did not see one LAZ Enforcement vehicle while folks streamed in. Are they undercover? I hope not…

Concerned about management of out of towners paying for July 3 Fireworks event…

Citizens of Norwalk want to know that out of town cars are paying their fair share and Shady Beach table reservations are user-friendly.

Placement of the staff hut may need repositioning just before the first left-hand turn…that will let cars stack up on driveway not road…and help flag the out of towners…can’t they just check for license cards? No money except from those that don’t like to use online charge cards.

Please consider that all folks DO NOT like to use cell phone to pay online….if some past staff stole cash, rely on screening honest staff and manage them well…give receipts and match with “car counters” device used for road traffic counts and reconcile each day with Staff but or LAZ…

The photo by Claire Schoen shows part of the communication confusion. The small arrows with word “non-resident” are too small to read as you drive by and I believe residents should not have to drive all the way around outer road to get to beach and bath house.

The City needs to greatly improve the educational task of this project. This includes signage that clarifies the system and $ amounts.

Let’s make this park user friendly!

Beyond this, we are blessed to have such a beautiful Park to view our natural world!

John ONeill June 27, 2019 at 10:25 am

The city should be commended for the Calf Pasture turnaround over the past 10 years. It’s a great beach. My only issue is that I need to do more pushups during the offseason to get in shape.

Milly June 27, 2019 at 11:27 am

Seasonal staff was $178,000 a year – there still must be a seasonal staff for the beach. They only eliminated the people who manned the booth to get in – that was not costing the city $178,000 a year. So now on top of the seasonal staff bill the city is paying $180,000 a year for people to drive around (after the cars are parked) and find out who did not pay? That makes no sense and is a waste of money.

PIBerman June 27, 2019 at 12:32 pm

Some 25 years later Norwalk is finally working with the web ! But buyers of new cars will still have to trudge to City Hall in person to get the sticker. As will those who sell an auto to get the corrected auto tax. City employees were courteous enough. But it was a long a wait. With a 3% auto use tax there’s a great incentive to stick with “old iron”.

Old timers know the beaches have been much improved. But the City still closes the toilets early in the season. Maybe because when there’s no need for City employees to work at the beach. So residents fend for themselves.

Paul Lanning June 27, 2019 at 12:36 pm

Under CT law, non-resident beach admission price is dictated by the State because admission is free for town residents. If Norwalk were to charge residents a nominal fee (no matter how small), then the city could charge non-residents any amount decided upon.

Christine M June 27, 2019 at 1:38 pm

My complaint from going to the beach last night is: as you drive up from Calf Pasture Road (a 2-lane road), instead of 2 lanes going into the park (like there used to be), there is only 1 lane open, so there’s a bottleneck there. Not sure what a safe solution would be, though.

Patrick Cooper June 27, 2019 at 2:36 pm

It should be a requirement that every member of the Common Council, the head of P&R, and the Mayor – to fully attend the 4th of July fireworks. Park there – stay till the end – and then deal with the departure. Know this: it’s 2+ hours to the East Ave. RR bridge.

Here is the scenario – hundreds of cars from the Bronx will pull up – drop off a group – and then go park on any/ every side street off Gregory up to Emerson. Maybe they even have relatives living in the lovely Fort Point neighborhood. Wagons in tow – it’s a short 10-15 minute walk to Calf Pasture.

Point is – Norwalk residents who pay the taxes to maintain this amenity will get squeezed out – or scared off – by out of state visitors who know by word of mouth exactly how to game the system.

We saved pennies and completely lost control – not that there was much of it before. When will our elected officials do anything for those who foot their bills?

Paul Lanning June 27, 2019 at 8:12 pm

I’ve heard that Norwalk is the only coastal town from Greenwich to New Haven that doesn’t charge residents a nominal fee for a seasonal beach pass.

If Norwalk were to fall in line with all the other shorefront communities, we could then charge out-of-towners an admission fee that would more accurately reflect the value of a day at our lovely beach. At the present rate of $40 per car, 4 adults and 4 kids in an SUV or mini-van get to enjoy a day at Calf Pasture for less money than they’d have to pay to see a 2-hour movie.

Tysen Canevari June 27, 2019 at 9:58 pm

i was at the beach last night and it was beautiful. However, the parking situation was awful. It was nearly impossible to get in and out of the park. I did notice that the mayor didnt have to use a parking spot. He pulled right up to the stage and parked our car right there. I thought the only assigned spot he has is the one at city hall?

The Norwalker September 22, 2019 at 12:07 pm

I dislike one of the Constables who goes around checking cars for Norwalk Addresses. This Constable feels that it is his job to dictate how people people park in a parking lot, even if their is only one car in the parking lot. Most likely he wants all the cars to line up to make his job easier.

Many Police and City Employees park on a slant to avoid and direct sunlight and he does not bother them. This constable also seems to have favorite people that he never bothers.

This really takes away from enjoying my City’s parks.

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