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SoNo caught in vicious parking circle

Sono parking 001-20130308
A visitor to SoNo pays to park Friday evening.

By Jackie Lightfield, Norwalk 2.0

NORWALK, Conn. – When one end of City Hall can’t communicate with the other end of City Hall, bad things happen. Take the recent rate hikes approved by the Norwalk Parking Authority. Despite citizens like myself attempting to communicate to a board that the hikes were a bad idea, my comments emailed prior to the meeting never made it into the public record. Instead of having a discussion about the content, nothing was said.

Is this an isolated incident? No, and it doesn’t happen just between residents and officials. The gist of my argument against raising rates, again, was simply that the policy was not aligned with the rest of land use and economic development policy.

From a zoning standpoint, the burden being placed on development to build on-site parking is counter-intuitive to the need to maximize parking patrons at our municipal lots. The removal of fee-in-lieu of parking generated an immediate impact in the ability of property owners to lease space. We must continue in this direction of having zoning remove its regulatory minimum requirements of any on-site parking.

From an economic development standpoint, Norwalk will continue to compete against the vibrant downtown development we are seeing in our neighboring communities. Norwalk does not economically support its world class restaurants alone. We need people from Wilton, Weston, Westport, New Canaan, Stamford and Darien to come to Norwalk. SoNo has not yet achieved a clean, safe and friendly appearance, as cited in numerous economic feasibility studies conducted over the past several years. Sidewalks, pothole-repair, crosswalks, trees, lighting and facades are all part of the solution, yet no coordination in city policy appears to take place.

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.

A recent parking study revealed two things, there is an over capacity of parking spaces, and the parking rates are not tied to economic demand, but are arbitrarily set by the the budget prepared by the authority. Instead of seeing whatever inflationary increases held to the outsourced vendor, the increases are being passed through to parkers without any regard to the economic impact those pricing policies have on the downtown itself.

SoNo’s economy remains fragile. It has stalled development, high turnover of tenants and challenges due to the proximity to some of our more economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and social services. This is simply the wrong direction in policy, and coupled with land use policy that creates competitive alternatives to municipal lots and garages, makes it difficult for the authority to increase parking revenue by other means, say having more cars park.

The authority should go back to the drawing board, reduce its overall budget, and contribute to the economic vitality of the downtown instead of feeding its own meter and the expense of the local businesses who bought into the idea that SoNo was a competitive destination downtown.

Jackie Lightfield

Comments

12 responses to “SoNo caught in vicious parking circle”

  1. oldtimer

    When we fail to study history we are bound to repeat it. The City did the same thing years ago, when South Norwalk was the place to shop and somebody sold the idea that parking meters were a good revenue source. They installed meters and drove a lot of the shoppers away, failed to realize the promised revenue, and watched South Norwalk deteriorate as a shopping destination. The meter company made money.

  2. Bruce Kimmel

    Jackie, I agree. First and foremost, our departments and policy makers need to be on the same page when it comes to the city’s overall priorities. Right now, the redevelopment of South Norwalk and supporting the needs of SoNo businesses should be the city’s top priority. Department heads and the Parking Authority need to develop and implement plans to achieve these goals. Of course, the Parking Authority is in a fiscal bind and does need to generate a certain amount of revenue to sustain itself and pay down past debts. Nonetheless, we need to find a creative way to solve this problem that makes sense to everyone. Good article, Jackie.

  3. Bryan Meek

    Ridiculous.
    An email was sent only a few hours prior to the meeting and not to all NPA members. The public hearing was unattended and advertised 10 days in advance. The city should have a policy to consider emails in absentia, but I do not control this. In good faith I discussed the contents and points made with the board keeping names in confidence. If the city had a policy about this, we could probably make some consideration for these types of submissions. I think the state has it at 24 hours but I’m not certain of their verification methodology to ensure the email is from who it says its from.

    Anyway, the NPA agreed most of the points made towards the NPAs budget were not based on actual data or current facts that we have to support the modest increases of 2.8% system wide.

    Let me repeat one more time: NPA DID NOT RAISE ANY RATES WHATSOEVER ON SHORT TERM PARKING THAT WOULD AFFECT ANY RESTAURANT OR RETAIL. Please stop spreading word that we did.

  4. jlightfield

    What’s ridiculous Byan is that my letter was addressed to:

    Dear Richard A. Moccia, Mayor
    Members of the Norwalk Parking Authority
    Members of the Common Council
    Members of the Zoning Commission
    Norwalk Redevelopment Agency

    And it was set to both Hal and Kathy, the parking authority staff.

    No excuses on that. None.

    As for the the NPA policy, I was quite clear in referencing years of such policy, so perhaps you might want to rethink how you respond to issues and formal letters to your public hearings, because the public hearing is held to solicit public comment, and right now you are executing in techie terms a major FAIL.

  5. spanner

    LAZ has been seen repairing curbs and sidewalks. The work is not 6 months old and needs to be repaired again. Why is LAZ doing concrete work mixing cement in trash buckets and trying to duplicate curbing that honestly looks like crap. Why has all parking lines been done on the new tar on Washington st except for the post office?

    No handicap parking at the post office yet the building is made for others who are disabled?

    Jim Himes was told about the issue and blew his supporters off, Duff Morris and Perone never used the post offices? They don’t see a lack of HP parking spots in front of these buildings? So much for Duff and his State positions.

    We have a new commuter parking lot off of MLK and its empty but its rented so its paid for, whats the deal there? The city rented it had LAZ line it for a parking lot and spent countless hours making it a destination for commuters, but its not used at all. Who knows the money trail here?

    Jackie has made some great points. Most of us would agree its time to dig some more and let it fly, having a new council member that knows the shell game better than most should tell us what she saw at the parking Auth, stands to reason the trust was to place her on the council, I’m willing to trust her take on things.

    LAZ also has city trucks to do snow removal and small vehicles the plates are all Norwalks, who pays for the gas we gave them the trucks. Some leave the city each night does Norwalk have other parking ventures elsewhere?

    LAZ works on Sundays, they sweep parking lots in the middle of the day filled with cars why not after the bars close? Overtime on Sunday must be great for the amount of work that can’t be done.

    Some of the repairs LAZ has done has left dangerous travel for visitors of all places in front of the Aquarium.This brick work was paid for by grants isn’t there a standard of this work to protect that grant money and where does the DPW stand on all this?

    The DPW has its own sign truck with welder and everything else yet LAZ is out there with two wrenches and some super glue. Is anyone seeing the picture I am trying to draw? Why is LAZ doing sign work wrong and no one is catching this?

    Last snow storm piles of snow stayed until it melted in front of both post offices blocking the only spaces to park for the post office and no one saw this disrespect for post office customers? This snow stayed there well after Moccia was passing out snow removal stickers for his crew.

    If the mayor wants credit for the good things in this city why not take the bad things and make them better?

    Makes you wonder when taxes go up if anyone will take the time to see the waste that has been here all the time in front of everyone noses.

  6. Bryan Meek

    JL. So by the powers vested in you, you deem all by yourself that unverified emails are a matter of public record?

    What happens if I assume your email is from you and it is not and I subsequently submit your fallacious comments into the public record?

    Sorry, I worked too hard for my CPA credential to put it at risk for possible libel action.

    Sending a baseless email 2 hours before the meeting is the FAIL here. We are very cooperative given notice, but that doesn’t seem to be any part of your intent. So much for the Chief Problem Solver. It is more like Chief Agent Provocateur.

  7. Bryan Meek

    @Spanner. I’m not sure where to begin, but maybe you should file a formal complaint with specifics. Dates, times, conditions, etc…. NPA and/or LAZ would be happy to address. It will be nearly impossible to address generalizations, so please be as specific as possible.

    But maybe I can alleviate some of your concerns right now. There are absolutely ZERO taxes funding the parking operations run by NPA. It is fully a self sustained entity known as an Enterprise Fund that manages almost $20 million in garages and lots that we taxpayers own at ZERO expense to we the taxpayers. This was established in 2002 by city ordinance.

    As for the lot on MLK, that is privately owned but sublet by the NPA. We had to do this to accommodate the State’s Brownsfield remediation project that was taking up a lot of spots on the Eastbound side of the rail road station while they dug out cores for sampling the soils. It would have been a real inconvenience for our commuters had we not acted quickly to get more spaces on line. Now that we have our spaces back, we do not incur the extra expense to staff this space. However it can be future capacity we might need as MTA expands service.

    Please note that the actions described herein are all matter of public record. Please feel free to attend a meeting or ask questions. You will get answers. I promise.

  8. jlightfield

    Keep digging Bryan, the letter was sent as a PDF attachment on letterhead with all my contact info. The email was sent from my server, and again all contact info was there. Note that you public responses here are indicative of a simple process issue that you seem incapable of understanding. Public comment was submitted and you’re FAILING to acknowledge it and more importantly not apologizing for not including it in the public record. Perhaps you might want to educate yourself by asking for training how to comply with regulations on how to hold a public hearing. I’m pretty sure that Corp Counsel Bob Maslan offers such training because certainly you by now understand that you do nothing more than represent the City of Norwalk by serving on a commission, and that it is in the best interest of the City of Norwalk to follow established rules and process.

  9. spanner

    Thanks Bryan for the info, I realize its better to have a paper trail than a verbal one.

    The new lot Deering leased to the NPA was lined by LAZ by brush and roller with no respiratory safe gaurds, the line paint is very dangerous to apply without the right safety equipment.

    The remediation done by Deering so far showed after the core samples were taken the area of contamination was removed but it was winter leaving any migration to check for impossible.The gas station in Fairfeild Deering did had its problems not sure if Deering was a great choice,yes it was grant money but was spent by the NPA.Experience or was it the lot Deering rents the deciding factor is open to speculation for the contract.

    The curbing, the signs, the work LAZ does all over the city doesn’t match the quality of what our DPW does. Where in the realm of rules does it say LAZ does brick work and cement curbing work on public streets? This brick work was grant money but to look at some of it now its been ruined again by LAZ or dangers left behind for the public.

    Because no tax money is used and grants were used for the work seems to be one of our mayor’s best double talks to date. The quality of work seen in the past from LAZ seems unacceptable by most standards.

    Maybe one other rumor can be cleared up. Recently at the end of summer a tree company came in and did work on Washington st, they removed and trimmed trees for two days with police details and it was said NPA paid for it, with the DPW having a tree dept with bucket truck and chipper. Why wasn’t Norwalk’s equipment used? This company was from NY not local and why right before Linda had her election headquarters open did the street get a fix up?

    I can give you many examples. The curb work in front of the Aquarium? A bucket a bag of cement and a very poor job was done, making a lip for those visitors of our city to trip on. It simply gives those who work for the city and have the experience a slap in the face; the pride they have is taken away by some of LAZ’s work.

    I’ll see if I can get some pictures up somewhere so everyone can see what I am talking about. I have LAZ working on some of these projects, clearly they are not masons or welders.

    One other thing came up this week. Does the police dept have any spots in the garage in S Norwalk to park maybe 25 cars during heavy snow storms? I realize you’re private and not city but our officers hump during storms making everyone safe and to get out of work and jump in a clean car to go home is sometimes the least we the city can do for our officers. I’m not sure private works well with a city that has a lot of public facets.

    Security has also come up in the news this week at the South Norwalk train station. I hope to find another article I can share what I know about that later.

  10. KATHY GALLAGHER

    I have lived in Norwalk and been a homeowner here for 33 years. I work in South Norwalk, but will tell you this: I avoid the South Norwalk area for recreation, and so do most of my friends. The parking situation is ridiculous and overpriced.

    People can go to any number of great restaurants in Southern Fairfield County and park for free. And that’s what we are doing. The movie theater? Why would I go to SoNo, where I have to pay a ridiculous fee ? I will visit the other theaters where parking is free.

    As for going to public hearings in this city, no thank you. I’ve been to plenty and seen the rude treatment meted out by our city officials.

  11. Bryan

    KG, you seem to have a predisposed position here, but fyi…you can park for free at the movies in Sono too. Just ask the movie theatre. If you’d prefer, you can pay $1 in the Maritime garage after 5pm. Free parking would cost the taxpayers millions like it does in surrounding towns that subsidize their parking and don’t have a large workforce that can burden the cost instead. Personally I’d rather the city spend that money on education.

  12. Rick

    We can argue about who does what, when, and how.

    The fact is- SoNo is a joke- all due to it’s insane parking enforcement. You can justify it any which way you want, but the public doesn’t care about all that. What they see is a white truck with radar driving around and a vicious employee of the parking authority yelling and treating people like dirt.

    You might say the ends justify the means but my peers and I have long ago stopped going to SoNo because of this.

    I appreciate that the NPA is trying to make it work for city and business owner alike- no easy task- however it’s failing. Did not the city sell off the parking management to LAZ? What may have seemed a good idea at the time is now backfiring. Time to get out of that contract ASAP in my opinion.

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