Having sat through so many Council meetings these past few years I’ve noticed that it really doesn’t matter who wins these $44 a month part time jobs. The collective mindset of the Common Council just can’t think past pocket change. The item about authorizing a bond issuance for Webster Lot improvements was a perfect example. The Council’s action was basically a choice, whether to let the finance department determine how to finance a capital improvement project or not. In simple terms, the project to change the payment method at Webster Street needed to paid for. The Parking Authority and the Finance Department figured out the cheapest money was to finance a five year bond.
But that’s not what many of the Council people focused on. Instead, led by Nora King, the Common Council decided to focus on what the parking rate fees were going to be. I sort of get it. Everyone does have an opinion on parking, after all, we all park our cars somewhere. But I suspect that all the concerns about the first 15 minutes of parking was manufactured out of thin air because I don’t think any of the Common Council has actually been to SoNo recently and parked in the Webster Lot or really any on street space or parking lot. And it was really apparent that they haven’t paid attention to the parking issues since 2005 or thereabouts.
For example, Nora King cited amongst other things, that Cold Stone Creamery closed for business because of the parking issues. That would be news to the guy who closed the business because he had to close 7 of his franchises at the behest of the franchiser because of other more dire issues. She also seem fixated on the “fast food” businesses, adjacent to Webster Lot, needing a help. Apparently she is unaware that the issue they have all cited is that their patrons are inconvenienced by the gates at Webster Lot and that in the evenings, around dinner time, parkers in the Webster Lot have to prepay to enter the lot. That has been the crux of the problem, who wants to pay $2 to pick up some egg rolls, and have to maybe deal with the vagaries of whose 15 minute clock one follows. The parking authority did try to address the issue by creating 15 minute free parking spaces on North Main Street, and extending the enforcement hours to 9 PM. Not a perfect solution, but responsive to the actual scenario that was occurring.
The move from a gated parking lot to a pay by space changes everything. No longer will customers of Chase Bank have to worry about how long the drive thru line is to determine if they will “pay” just for driving though. No longer will lines form at exit lanes because someone can’t find their parking ticket or enough change to pay for parking. Oh, there will still be lines, because peak hours and movie slots tend to do that, but over all the interaction between paying and parking will be automated, putting the control of parking back to the driver.
Most of the Common Council last night wanted to do something for the small businesses in SoNo. Why stop at 15 minutes of free parking, which btw, costs a parker 25 cents? If they were really concerned about small businesses in SoNo they would be appalled at the garbage on the streets, the disrepair of the sidewalks, the intransigence of SNEW, the homeless and drug addicts wandering and pan handling on the streets, the police department who doesn’t send out foot patrols, the hot dog car that parks in no parking zones, empty uninviting “urban” park in front of 50 Washington street, the pot holes on Washington Street, the lack of crosswalks that are clearly marked, the property owners who keep filthy storefront windows of unleased space, the snow and ice that doesn’t get removed from sidewalks, and a whole host of issues that are actually in their control.
Other Cities get that urban areas are more difficult to keep economically vital so they incentivize businesses to open their doors. The tools of a municipality are tax rebates, additional services and marketing promotion. The City of Norwalk has a zero dollar marketing budget, something the Council could change. The Common Council has not discussed any form of tax rebates or credits in any effort to attract new businesses to SoNo. As for garbage on the streets, the Common Council still hasn’t figured out that there are property owners who are not providing garbage disposal areas to their tenants and so those tenants, many of them businesses, put out plastic bags on the street for city collection.
If the Common Council were truly interested in the economy of SoNo, then maybe they would spend more time in the very businesses that they talked about last night. Then they would see that perhaps they could help the businesses of SoNo by focusing on the big issues that only government can solve rather than figuratively dropping a quarter in a tip bucket and thinking that they are doing something.