Downtown merchants fight for parking solutions
A number of downtown business owners, frustrated over the parking situation around their stores, met Thursday night with Mark Barnhart, director of community and economic development, at Pink Cloud Beading, a downtown business located along the Donnelly Walk.
After store owners shared stories of people getting ticketed before their two-hour parking time limit was up, followed by impassioned pleas for an improvement, as well as a claim of a set-up (there are 40 more merchant permits issued than there are spaces for), Barnhart agreed he would meet with the Fairfield Police Commission about extending parking time limits on to-be-identified streets from two hours to three hours. In addition, he said he would seek changes to the parking area at Sherman Green, including making merchants exempt from the two-hour limit, provided they have a valid parking permit.
Carolyn Xifaras, owner of Pink Cloud Beading, said she has to move her vehicle every two hours. She said that extending that limit just one more hour would help, not only for her and other store owners, but also for downtown visitors as well. Xifaras said two hours is just not enough time for a customer who might want to, for example, shop and eat or shop and get their hair done. When the two-hour time limit is approaching, a downtown visitor, rather than move to another spot, might just head home to Wilton or Westport, said Xifaras.
"The yoga place [Yoga 4 Everybody] told me they're on board [for longer parking] because after a two-hour yoga class, people couldn't shop," said Xifaras.
She also claimed there have been times when she's been parked for as brief as 45 minutes and has gotten a ticket.
Barnhart said there are time limits on parking in the downtown area because of the nearby train station. If there were no time limits, he said, people commuting via Metro-North would take up regular parking spots all day. However, Xifaras said spots designated for merchants shouldn't have such short time spans. She said the merchants bring business to this town and already pay high rents and their fair share of taxes. Xifaras said she also shouldn't have to pay to park her car. A permit for a merchant is $300.
"We feel insulted that we, as store owners, have to pay to park to work when we're trying to bring revenue into the town," she said. Barnhart responded by saying most communities don't have free parking.
Shay McGinnis, owner of Chez Shay Hair Studio, was supportive of a meter box, whereby various people, parked in different spots, could put money in one meter.
"It would be much easier for me to put quarters in a machine for a client than to move their car," she said.
"There's just not enough parking. You have to physically create more space," he said.
Barnhart said that's a costly proposition and there really isn't money in the budget for such an undertaking right now.
While most at Thursday's session supported modifying the parking limit from two hours to three hours, Terry Bussen, an owner of Snappy Gator, spoke against it. In fact, he said he would like to see the two-hour limit reduced to one hour. He also pointed out that parking is allowed behind the post office. An employee of McGinnis' hair salon argued that that's too far when you have four or five bags, and is a security issue late at night.
"If you extend the hours, these people will tie up the spots even longer," he said.
McGinnis felt that issuing 160 merchant permits for only 120 spots was a set-up. Barnhart defended this by saying every permit holder isn't using his or her permit every day and that if there were only 120 permits issued, in most instances, there would be empty spaces every day.
Barnhart said if a landlord isn't providing on-site parking, then the rent should reflect that.
"Businesses or properties that have off-street parking can command a higher premium," he said, adding, "We need to work together to solve the problem."
The parents of martial arts students at Villari's Studio of Self Defense are often forced to double park on Unquowa Road, according to Jerry Simon, an instructor at the studio. Simon's clients don't come in a steady stream. Rather, he'll get 50 people in one shot. Simon said when he can't find a spot himself on his side of the Post Road, he parks over by Sherman Green.
Barnhart said there isn't really any room in the downtown area to add parking, other than building a garage, which would have a very high price tag. However, he said if the post office is eventually forced to sell, "maybe the town can acquire the lot."
The parking situation downtown will also ease up a bit when the town's third train station is completed, said Barnhart. He added that will free up 200 spaces. However, he said the third station will not be the solution to the problem because "I think we'll still be talking about this."
Xifaras said she was pleased that Barnhart committed to going to the police commission with a request to extend time limits from two to three hours on some streets, and to exempt merchants with permits from the two-hour limit in the Sherman Green lot.
"We have a beginning now. That's fine. That works for me," she said.
Some at Thursday night's meeting were pleasantly surprised to find out they can park beyond two hours at the Fairfield Theatre Company lot, provided they have a permit, and there is free parking on the north and southbound sides of the train station after 5 p.m. on weekdays, and all day parking on the weekends and holidays.