Parking authority starts to tackle parking troubles
The Parking Authority is poised to start the lengthy battle to combat the obvious lack of parking downtown and at the train stations.
The Board of Selectmen reconvened after its regular meeting, as the Parking Authority on Monday night considered how to approach the lack of parking in Darien.
"Call me crazy, but I'm really excited to start this discussion," First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said. "I consider these problems to be a very positive sign that the economy here in Darien is alive and well."
Before Town Administrator Karl Kilduff's presentation, several commuters offered their opinions on the state of parking in town.
"This night has been so long and coming," said Jim Cameron, longtime commuter advocate and founder of the Connecticut Commuter Action Group. "This can has been kicked so far down the road for so many years. I salute this board for addressing and embracing this issue. There are no easy solutions; whatever you decide to do, someone will be mad at you."
John Sini Jr., a commuter and member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said he understood that addressing parking is a "really complicated issue" but believes the solutions lie "out of the box."
Currently, there is not enough permit parking overall to accommodate drivers living in or coming to town. According to Kilduff, there are 605 permits issued annually for the seven parking lots, but 1,468 people still are on the waiting list.
There is a seven-year wait period for a permit for the Noroton Heights train station lot and a 10-year wait period for the Darien train station lot.
Cameron said he worried that the lack of commuter parking is affecting the town's economy and real estate values.
"When people think of moving to the suburbs and know there's a 10-year waiting list, that's a really important deciding factor that may send them to New Canaan or Westport or somewhere else," Cameron said.
To start, Kilduff told the board that convenient parking has to be established.
"What is convenient to me, may not be convenient to you," Kilduff said. "How close is close enough, how far is too far? That's a culture change that has to be addressed."
Kilduff said he receives phone calls from downtown Darien business owners who want parking spaces closer to their establishments for their customers and employees. And, Kilduff said, "commuters want to be close to the station."
Parking spaces are underused at and around the Post 53 headquarters because they are too far from the Noroton Heights train station, Kilduff said.
Kilduff said more parking space in town is needed.
"Public demand exceeds supply both for commuters and downtown users," Kilduff said. There are 2,501 combined permit and voucher spaces in town: 991 permit commuter spaces; 1,099 daily commuter spaces; 52 downtown permit spaces; and 359 downtown hourly spaces.
Kilduff presented the board with options to consider.
The first option is to change voucher spaces to permit spaces to favor permit holders, but then voucher users would have fewer parking options. The regional average, according to Kilduff, is 75 percent permit parking and 25 percent voucher parking. In order to achieve that balance, 250 voucher spaces at the Darien lot and 122 voucher spaces at the Noroton Heights lot would need to be converted to permit parking.
Because voucher parking brings in more revenue than annual permits, the increase in permit parking would cause the town to lose $147,312 a year. Annually, voucher parking contributes $300,000 to the parking fund, while the permit parking provides $280,000. One voucher space generates $741 a year for the town, while an annual permit generates $345.
Other options are to charge a fee to be on the waiting list, which has been discussed in other communities but not implemented, Kilduff said.
Kilduff also suggested removing commuter parking from Grove Street and instead designating it for downtown parking.
The last option would be to construct a parking garage, though there is no guarantee that the revenue from the additional parking spaces would offset the cost of construction.
"I think structure parking could be the best solution to get enough spots to address the demands but only if we had a market-based price," said Selectman Reilly Teirney.
Currently, permit parking prices are lower than a majority of surrounding regions. Only the stations at Southport, Westport, East Norwalk and Rowayton charge less than the $345 Darien charges for an annual permit. Train stations such as South Norwalk and Stamford charge close to or more than $1,000 for an annual permit, while Bridgeport, East Norwalk and Greenwich charge between $500 and $600.
"I'm cognizant of commuters' desire to not pay too much and want to give them something if there is any increase in the permit price," Stevenson said. "And we will, as discussion ensues, have robust discussion about things we could provide if we raised permit prices."
Selectman Susan Marks asked if the board could establish long- and short-term plans for parking, and said the amount of information they received from Kilduff's presentation was "overwhelming."
Stevenson said the board needed to start looking at goals and policy setting.
"And probably one of (those goals) is to set a near and more distant term strategy," Stevenson said. "I think we can do some short-term goals that could be fairly dramatic."
Stevenson said one goal could be to repurpose grant funding that was initially given to do a study to determine if a structure at the Leroy West parking lot is feasible. She suggested that the board use funding in a more "global" way to determine other parking management in general.
"Remember, there are no easy solutions," Cameron said. "If there were, they would have been achieved years ago."
firstname.lastname@example.org; 203-330-6583; @Meg_DarienNews