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.