Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, August 3, 2017
Visitors, locals adjust to new parking laws
‘It’s a small step in a much, much larger process’
Where can you park?
A map of Stonington parking locations and restrictions.
by Anne Berleant and Faith DeAmbrose
With a specific number of public parking spaces available, the summer swell of visitors, and the reconfiguration at Hagen Dock, the ongoing conversation on how, where, and for how long to park in downtown Stonington ended up in committee last year.
“It was a great, diverse group,” member and Boyce’s Motel owner Barrett Gray said. “I think we did a really good job trying to take into consideration innkeepers, fishermen and businesses.”
The ad hoc committee issued its final report in November 2016. In March selectmen began to implement change. First, voters at town meeting approved enforcement through the sheriff’s office and then selectmen enacted new, seasonal regulations that went into effect on July 24.
“It’s a small step in a much, much larger process that needs to happen in the near future,” committee chairman Gerry Sytsema said.
Changes include a four-hour parking restriction from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., June 1 through August 31, along Main Street, West Main Street and Hagen Dock.
The committee’s report noted that parking needs exceeded available spaces on the commercial fish pier, and recommended adding 48 spaces at the ball field, with a crosswalk on School Street to lead them to the Memorial Lane walkway. Currently, improvements are being made to the walking path that links the ball field and Community Center to the parking area on Pink Street leading to Main Street.
“We were charged with doing an assessment, coming up with recommendations,” committee member Susan Robinson said. “A lot of it has fallen back to where the selectmen want to go with this.”
Adapting to change
On the sunny afternoon of July 25, with Main Street busy with pedestrians and slow-moving vehicles, the Pink Street lot was full, with one illegally parked car and one of two handicapped spaces free. Up the short path to the Memorial Lane lot, of the 15 spaces, six were free.
“We were joking that for the first time we came down Main Street and [had to] turn around” to find a parking spot, Keith Ellis, visiting from Connecticut, said. “Last year we just parked at [Hagen] dock.”
With the new restrictions, comes adjustments. An informal survey on July 25 along Main Street found some people unfazed, some with specific complaints, and some waiting for signs, delayed by a summer backlog in processing work orders, according to Town Manager Kathleen Billings, but now in place.
“I’d like to have a disabled space in front of the library,” Stonington librarian Vicki Zelnick said. “I’ve had three people complain today. It’s a problem.”
She parks in the Memorial Lane lot, and noted, “The walkway is very nice, from the community center down [to Pink Street].”
Several employers held that they and their employees have a longstanding practice of parking in the Pink Street and Memorial Lane lots, live within walking distance or get dropped off and picked up by family members.
“I don’t have an issue because I don’t drive,” Lisa Jones, an employee at Island Approaches said. She noted, however, that her colleague, who parks downtown because of physical limitations, will have to move her car after four hours, which means closing the store and “lost sales.”
Downtown lodging establishments have been informing guests, or responding to their queries.
“A lot of guests seemed to know because they were asking about it,” said Jay Brown, co-owner of the Inn at the Harbor. With no private parking for the inn, Brown said that, within the regulations, guests can park on Main Street after 1 p.m. and not have to move their car until noon the next day.
“Parking is available but it may not be at your doorstep,” Gray said, from his office at Boyce’s Motel, which has eight private spaces for 11 rooms. He noted further: “A town without a parking problem is not a vibrant town.”
“It’s a little town with a lot of businesses,” said Dry Dock owner Janet Cook. “We’ll make it work.”
The availability of parking is essential for downtown businesses. The economic benefit of a parking space in Stonington is roughly $12,000 a year. That number, arrived at through a formula provided by the Maine Development Foundation, spurred the parking committee to propose that employees and employers move from the prime parking spots to other areas in town. The report recommends that “Pink Street be designated for daily off-street use of residents, businesses, employees,” during the peak season June through September and that “Memorial Lane should be designated as only for employee/employer parking.”
Ball field parking and the (unknown) future of the fire department
Used for parking during the weekly summer Farmers’ Market, the ball field gets little use otherwise. Currently home to a towering rock pile left over from the Hagen Dock project, the future of the space in unclear.
Identified by the committee as an area where parking could be expanded, it is also identified as a possible new home for a fire department “within the next five years,” according to the report.
Stonington Fire Chief Ryan Hayward, who also served as a member of the committee, said the department will need to expand for two reasons: the building is not large enough to accommodate the size of modern-day fire trucks, with no physical area to expand a footprint, and as the downtown area becomes more congested, it is difficult to move in and out of the space.
“It’s tough to be situated in such a busy place,” said Hayward, noting that when the fire station was built there was little else in the area. Because of the need for firefighters to have a dedicated place to park in an emergency such as a structure fire, the area surrounding the station on Hagen Dock is off limits to public parking.
“We hope we don’t need to use it,” Hayward said, but added that firefighters are the last people you want looking for parking in an emergency.
Enhancement of the ball field would initially yield about 48 spaces for both short and long term parking, up to seven days. In its report, the parking committee identified the need for increased signage to encourage parking in that area, even suggesting “lobsters stenciled on the ground” to identify the way to the walking path downtown.
How do you change behavior? That is an underlying question that is perhaps more difficult to answer. How do you get employees that work all day to stay off Main Street or to get tourists to not park for a weekend trip to Isle au Haut? The answer seems to be two-fold: requiring a mix of enforcement, currently in place, and a plea to all the stakeholders in town to come together to make it work.
“The economic vitality of the town requires that all of its citizenry put its collective shoulder to the wheel during these [summer] months,” the committee report stated. “The committee’s recommendations ask that each group give a little—and only for four months—for the town’s long term economic well-being.”