For many years, the common parking area at Liberty Square, which is owned by the City of Norwalk, had been a subject of complaints for lack of care. Street cleaning, snow removal, poor drainage, poor lighting and lack of enforcement with respect to parking were creating quality of life issues for the residents, the business owners and the patrons of Constitution Park.
Liberty Square came under threat for partial and/or complete destruction, despite the historic nature of the buildings, during the early stages of the Walk Bridge planning process. Ultimately, the Walk Bridge project required some drainage maintenance along Goldstein Place. The City sensibly decided to do the maintenance of the drainage for both Goldstein Place and for Liberty Square at the same time. BUT,
On an unknown date, through an unknown method, sometime in 2017, the City of Norwalk turned the parking lot over to the Norwalk Parking Authority (“NPA”) to “manage”.
On January 24, 2018, the Norwalk Parking Authority came before the Planning Commission to request capital budget funds in connection with the Liberty Square common parking area. That request included funds for the drainage, paving, re-striping and re-configuring to add a few more spaces and for handicapped spaces, as well as for new light fixtures. It ALSO included the installation of “pay stations”.
On March 28, 2018, the Board of Estimate and Taxation held a public hearing on the City Operating Budget. NOT A SINGLE MEMBER OF THE PUBLIC WAS THERE TO ADDRESS THE “CITY SIDE” OF THE OPERATING BUDGET.
On March 28, 2018, despite the fact that the Capital Budget had not yet been approved, the NPA began discussing the capital improvements, including putting out bids (Agenda, Minutes). The only member of the public to address the NPA at this meeting was the co-owner of Ninety9 Bottles. The minutes state:
“Mr. Dunn stated that he is very excited that the Parking Authority will be taking control over the Liberty Square Parking Lot and that he is hoping there are some improvements made and that something is done about the parking. Mr. Brescia said that a parking plan will be put together in which they are now in the process of doing. Mr. Rains asked Mr. Dunn what his ideal picture of the Parking Authority’s involvement. Mr. Dunn said the signage needs to be cleaned up, the hours of operation enforced and that any improvements will be welcomed.”
On May 23, 2018, the NPA discussed using Veteran’s Park Spaces as “overflow parking” from Liberty Square, and using the Liberty Square pay stations to test a parking validation program. (Agenda, Minutes)
On September 12, 2018, the NPA held a public information session (Minutes) to jointly inform the public about the drainage work and the improvements to the lot. There was considerable discussion about the length of time the lot would be out of service, and the safety concerns around the alternative parking arrangements while the lot was to be closed. In response to direct questioning, Director Hebert declined to tell the public what the NPA planned in the way of fees for parking in the common parking area, except to say that residents would have monthly permits, meters would charge in a similar way to other “municipal lots” and that they would accommodate the needs of the businesses with several spots “regulated” for 15 minute free parking. There was no explanation of why all spots couldn’t be regulated for time in the same fashion as the 15 minutes spaces, or why the 15 minute spaces could not be 2 hours spaces instead. There was also no answer as to how the residents could be assured that they would have a space to go with the expense for the permits.
Liberty Square Construction September 2018
On September 26, 2018, a number of members of the public attended the NPA meeting to object to charging for parking at Liberty Square (September Agenda, Minutes). This is also the meeting at which Chairman Brescia, who owns property at Liberty Square, recused himself from the parking management plan discussions at Liberty Square. No specifics as to pricing for the parking were discussed.
On October 3, 2018, the NPA held a public information meeting (Minutes) to gather input in connection with the city-wide parking study. Among the many topics discussed, the charges planned for the Liberty Square common parking area were brought up several times. In each case, the answers were very similar to the ones from the previous public information session.
On October 25, 2018, the Hour ran an article which contained an unsourced sentence indicating that the visitor fees for the lot were to be $.50/hour and parking permits for residents and “employees” were to be $25/month, with three spaces allotted as 15 minute free spaces. Though NPA vice chair Harden was quoted in the article, there was no discussion of how the fees were determined, only references to the improvements to the lot. The October 24th meeting appears to be the first and only time the specifics of the pricing of the “parking management plan” were discussed. The article also noted that the NPA had stopped short of voting to approve the “plan” at its October 24th meeting (Agenda, Minutes) in deference to a member who was unable to attend. However, that member had submitted suggestions in writing, and this item was not an action item on that agenda:
Ms. Hebert read comments from Mr. Rains and he had stated that there should be a ramping up period and Liberty Square should operate at the same pricing levels as the Library with the addition of day and overnight permits and the categories as he sees them are three 15 minute free parking, hourly at .50 cents per hour, and that the permits should be tiered daytime for $50 per month, $25 for overnight and limit them to two per residential unit and he sees no reason this lot can’t operate the same as all the other lots in town.
On November 28, 2018, while many residents were engaged at the Welcome Center for two public information sessions on the Walk Bridge, the NPA quietly approved a “parking management plan” for the Liberty Square common parking area. The item was described as a “parking management plan” to be approved on the agenda. However, in response to a specific request for the backup to the agenda prior to the meeting, a member of the public was advised that there was no draft plan document, only staff suggestions of $25/month and $.50/hr. Minutes of the meeting indicate that the NPA felt it had discussed rates and implementation for months.
On December 18, 2018, a petition was submitted to the Norwalk Parking Authority, from citizens protesting the decision to charge for parking and recommending that the parking be regulated and only fines/penalties be assessed on those who disobey the regulations.
On December 19, 2018, the NPA did not have the petition on its agenda for discussion or action and it chose not to suspend the rules to add it to the agenda. However, Mayor Rilling attended the NPA in connection with the budget approval process, and the minutes reflect the following:
Mayor Rilling joined the meeting and thanked the Parking Authority for all of the good things that they have done for the city during the course of the year. He said that he realizes that the Parking Authority receives a lot of complaints and that working with the public is both challenging and rewarding and thanked the members of the Parking Authority for the time that they volunteer, and that the parking lots look great.
At a special meeting of the NPA held on January 9, 2019, (Agenda, Minutes), the NPA again chose not to have the petition on its agenda for discussion. The meeting was primarily to discuss the upcoming budgets, and the following rate change discussion took place, justified not by the costs of maintaining the lot, but by a motivation to shift parking behavior. The visitor parking rate is suggested to be changed to HALF what it wants to charge for parking at Liberty Square, with the permits being the same rate. Remember, the NPA expressed its opinion that the parking fees at Liberty Square would not be a hardship for the businesses there, even though the stated fear of the members of the public was that charging for parking would discourage people from visiting the businesses. But, it subscribes to the reverse logic that LOWERING the parking rates will INCREASE the use of the Yankee Doodle lot.
Mr. Brescia said he is recommending reducing the transient rate to .25 cents per hour 24/7 at the Yankee Doodle Garage with no evening rate to try and get people to park in the garage rather than the street and that the parking rate in the garage should be less than parking on the street or in the parking lots. He also recommended reducing the monthly permits to $25/month. He said based on his recommendation the revenue would increase by approximately $120,000 in Wall Street area, the only area in the city that the Parking Authority has responsibility for that operates with a budget shortfall. There was discussion regarding the permit for the stored vehicles and it was decided that it be referred to as an unregistered vehicle storage fee rather than a permit.
On January 23, 2019, the NPA held its last regular meeting before the parking fees were scheduled to go into effect on 2/1/2019 and AGAIN chose not to have the petition on the agenda for discussion. (Agenda, Minutes) The minutes acknowledged an email sent to the body, but did not reflect the specific request to put the item on the agenda:
She said that staff and the members of the Parking Authority had received an e-mail regarding the petition from Ms. Goldstein.