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WILTON

Finding a space for all

Downtown parking: Wilton Main Street Association calling for change

  • Parking on Main Street can be problematic during heavy business hours, according to business owners, with overflow parking designated down the street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    Parking on Main Street can be problematic during heavy business hours, according to business owners, with overflow parking designated down the street.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested changing up the parking plan on Main Street to better serve the businesses in that area, including taking six half-hour spaces and making them one-hour parking. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested changing up the parking plan on Main Street to better serve the businesses in that area, including taking six half-hour spaces and making them one-hour parking.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Wilton Main Street Association recommends changing parking time limits on Main Street.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Wilton Main Street Association recommends changing parking time limits on Main Street.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

    The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street.

    (Staff photo by Ashley Saari) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Parking on Main Street can be problematic during heavy business hours, according to business owners, with overflow parking designated down the street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested changing up the parking plan on Main Street to better serve the businesses in that area, including taking six half-hour spaces and making them one-hour parking. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Wilton Main Street Association recommends changing parking time limits on Main Street.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The Wilton Main Street Association has suggested eliminating the two-hour time limit on the majority of parking spaces on Main Street. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

Main Street is where the action is in Wilton. Made up almost entirely of small businesses, the location of the Town Hall, the local movie theater and the summer farmer’s market, Main Street is the epicenter of the town. But with all that activity comes one major problem: Parking.

Parking on Main Street in Wilton has been a contentious issue for years, with spaces time restricted to keep spaces free. There is a designated public parking lot down the street outside the Police Department, but many people don’t even know it’s there, or misunderstand its use.

The town went through a series of public hearings on the issue several years ago, to determine which Main Street spots should be designated half-hour spots and which would be limited to two hours. But during a recent meeting between the Main Street Association and local businesses, the association discovered that as the businesses on Main Street have changed, so have parking needs.

Main Street Association President Richard Sharkey appeared before the Select Board at their April 29 meeting to discuss a proposed solution. The changes include longer parking times, as well as better signage in the area of Main Street.

Among the suggestions are taking the six designated half-hour spots , and making them one-hour parking. That would allow people in the area who wished to dine at the two local eateries on Main Street enough time to have a sit-down lunch, which half-hour parking might not be able to accommodate.

The rest of the parking on the Main Street strip would also have extended parking time, going from two hours to no cap at all, though overnight parking would still be prohibited.

Sharkey also suggested posting better signs to advertise the public parking lot by the police station. Currently, the lot is marked as municipal parking, which many drivers assume means it is restricted to town vehicles, such as the police cruisers, when in fact the Main Street Association owns 40 of those spots. The area should be re-signed to reflect that it is a public lot, and point drivers in the right direction, Sharkey said.

Cheryl Schaefer, the owner and chef at Roam Cafe on Main Street, said in an interview Thursday that she is all for the changes . The half-hour spots do not leave people enough time to come in and sit down for lunch or dinner, she said.

“When I first leased the building, I was told of the parking issues. I thought, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and for the most part, that’s been true,” she said. “Most of my customers are local, and have learned to deal with the parking situation.”

Most of her customers are aware of the overflow parking available at the police station, Schaefer said. Most of the parking issues result from the out-of-town crowd drawn in by the movie theater, who don’t know that the parking lot is available, and use street spots, she said. Upping the half-hour spots to an hour will allow people to use them for longer appointments, such as a sit-down dinner, exercise class or haircut, she said.

Doug Nelson, the owner of Nelson’s Candy, said in an interview Thursday that he really only experiences parking issues during certain times, but when it’s a problem, it’s a big problem. During his rush times around the major candy-giving holidays, like Valentines Day, Easter and Christmas, customers have issues with parking. But those are only a few days of the year. It’s really Sundays that are a regular issue for him, when the Town Hall Theatre features a early matinee. He said he would be glad to see better signs pointing drivers to the parking lot down the street.

“There are some Sundays when after 2 p.m., I might as well go home. If we could get more people to park at the police station, it would take the pressure off,” he said. “I’m all for any changes. If it’s going to improve things, let’s do it.”

Parking times at the lot shared with the Police Department is unlimited, but there is no overnight parking.

In the past, parking changes haven’t always been effective, said Sharkey, and that’s mostly because it’s simply not enforced .

That would have to be stepped up if the new rules were going to make any real changes to the parking situation, said Sharkey. The key times to enforce the parking time limits are during evening hours and Sunday afternoons when the movie theater draws in a larger traffic flow.

Police Chief Brent Hautanen said in an interview Friday that parking enforcement is a difficult balance.

Some merchants in the area want it enforced more strictly, while others take the opposite view, he said. “If I go down there and write a lot of tickets, it could make people reluctant to stop in downtown Wilton. It could drive business away. It’s a fine line and a balance to walk,” he said.

That challenge got even tougher when the town lost the public parking lot on Main Street, which was converted into a park, and spaces were taken out in favor of crosswalks.

“We continually are bleeding parking spaces, and that makes downtown parking an issue,” Hautanen said.

He said he anticipates meeting with the Main Street Association soon about this issue. “I’m certainly willing to listen to any suggestion, because it is a very difficult parking situation, especially when there’s movies showing at the theater. There really isn’t a parking space to be had.”

Dennis Markaverich, owner of Wilton Town Hall Theatre, said in an interview Thursday he was in favor of the changes, but felt that enforcement should be more even, and not just targeted at movie times.

“If they’re going to enforce it, enforce it consistently. If it’s 30, or if it’s 60 minutes, it has to be that all the time, not just when there’s movies,” he said, about parking time limits.

Along with that is making sure that everyone is aware of what the rules are. For spots with a designated time limit, each one should be clearly marked with an individual sign, said Sharkey. Currently, the half-hour spots are marked with two signs on either end of the section, which tell drivers that the spots between the two signs are a limited parking zone. But not everyone sees those signs when they park, said Sharkey.

Markaverich agreed that the signs concerning the parking needed to be upgraded.

“Signage is awful,” he said . He added that eliminating the two-hour limit on the remaining spots was something he was in favor of.

The ordinance only applies from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., so it is not relevant during his evening showings, but the signs on Main Street don’t indicate that, he said.

“I think getting rid of [the two-hour time limit] will eliminate confusion,” he said . “So long as there’s still no overnight parking, I’m fine with that.”

The Select Board agreed to review the changes and confer with both the police chief and road agent to get their recommendations on how to proceed. The Select Board meets next on Monday at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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