News Feature

Stonington
Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 6, 2017
Board approves parking changes, imposes limits

by Rich Hewitt

Following a public hearing Monday, the selectmen adopted changes to the town’s parking ordinance that will impose time limits on parking in the downtown area.

The changes incorporate some of the recommendations from a committee charged to study parking issues in the town. They set a four-hour limit on parking on Main Street and on Hagen Dock between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. from June through September. The exceptions to that limit are the designated, half-hour spots at the north end of Main Street. Though not specified in the ordinance those half-hour spots were recommended by the committee for library parking.

The amendments also prohibit parking for more than 24 hours at the Pink Street and Memorial Lane space, which remain dedicated for use of residents, businesses and employees. Those amendments don’t include all of the recommendations from the committee, but Town Manager Kathleen Billings said the selectmen wanted to start slow on implementing parking changes.

“We didn’t want to make too many changes all at once,’’ Billings said.

Some of those attending the hearing questioned the four-hour limit. Blaine Blackmore said he thought the limit was “excessive,” and Dana Durst, one of the proprietors of Inn on the Harbor, expressed concern about how those limits will affect their guests. Committee member Barrett Gray said the committee considered check-in times when recommending the limits and pointed out that a guest could park on Hagen Dock in the afternoon and not have to move their vehicle until the next day.

Much of the discussion during the hearing focused on parking spaces rather than the limits. Nat Barrows questioned the recent removal of three parking spaces on Hagen Dock behind the fire station. Those spaces had been marked when the dock was paved after the rehab project was completed earlier this year. The selectmen agreed to remark those spaces as a no-parking zone after the town’s fire chief argued that that space provided a guaranteed space for firefighters to park when they respond to a fire.

Barrows said he had never seen firefighters use those spots and urged the selectmen to negotiate with the fire department in order to reinstate those spots. The dock is composed of seven different parcels and the town does not own all of those parcels. There are also easements involved and the town is currently trying to straighten out that situation, according to Selectman Evelyn Duncan.

Gerry Sytsema, who chaired the parking committee, questioned the location of several crosswalks on Main Street, particularly the one near the Opera House and the commercial fish pier. Earlier discussion had reached a consensus that the crosswalk was ineffective and possibly dangerous. But, Sytsema pointed out, when crews painted the lines, the crosswalk was in the same spot. Billings said the discussion of the placement of the crosswalk had gone back and forth without a clear decision on where to locate it. The deciding factor seemed to be that moving the crosswalk would require the town to cut into the existing curbing in order to make the crossing handicapped accessible. She added that the selectmen could look at the location of crosswalks again next year.

“We can see what works this year and what things we can tweak,’’ she said.

The new parking regulations will not take effect immediately. Although Billings has reviewed the new rules with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office—which will enforce the parking regulations—they still need to do a final, on-site review before the new rules will take effect. In addition, Billings said she has not yet ordered the signs to reflect the new parking limits. Those should be ready within the next few weeks and Billings said the town will notify the public when those rules will take effect.

Enforcement of the new parking limits will cost the town about $6,000 in addition to the patrol contract the town has with the sheriff’s office. Voters at the annual town meeting in March authorized the selectmen to draw $6,000 from the town’s “rainy day’’ fund to finance the additional enforcement patrols.

The selectmen also approved spending $4,500 to pave a section of Pink Street in order to improve a walking path from the Memorial Lane Parking area to Main Street. Billings said town crews already have trimmed back some of the brush along that area and will make other landscaping improvements once the paving is done. Although the town has a 16-foot right-of-way from Pink Street to Memorial Lane, Billings said the project will pave just six feet of that area, enough for two people to walk abreast. The project is part of the effort to encourage Main Street employees to park off of Main Street. It will also improve the lighting along that stretch.