Norwich officials hope to better plan downtown parking

Norwich — The increasing demand for parking in the downtown has prospective developers concerned about investing there, while some private property owners have started to answer the call by creating paid parking in violation of zoning regulations.

Various issues involving downtown parking and potential solutions were discussed Tuesday during two workshops at City Hall with representatives from Midwest-based parking management firm Interstate Parking. More than a dozen city officials, downtown business representatives and residents attended the afternoon session to discuss the downtown’s future parking needs and current problems.

Robert Mills, president of the Norwich Community Development Corp., started the discussion with a review of ongoing and potential development coming to Main Street, lower Broadway, Water Street and nearby streets. Proposed commercial and residential development, including an antique store, upper story apartments, retail shops and a therapeutic medical center on lower Main Street could add the need for hundreds of additional parking spaces.

A proposed high-end boutique hotel in the former Elks Club building could boost the opposite end of Main Street, where the long vacant and derelict former YMCA building still sits.

The theme for Tuesday’s workshop was better management rather than construction of new garages or parking lots.

Currently, the owners of Norwich’s leased parking — dominated by the city’s Public Parking Commission and the private lots owned and operated by the Lord Family Nominee Trust in connection with downtown buildings the group owns and leases — do not practice timed rentals of spaces. That means parking paid for by daytime downtown employees is not reused during evenings for restaurants, events and overnight for residents.

But Sean Ryan, a member of the city parking commission, said the commission does not monitor after-hours parking in the parking garages and parking lots, essentially leaving them open for evenings. Residents in the densely populated Church Street apartments often use the city’s Main Street parking garage, which has an entrance on Church Street, for overnight parking or during snowstorms.

Jeff Lord, who runs the Lord Family Nominee Trust properties, said he does not divide the time for parking and hasn’t yet seen a demand to do that. He said overnight residential parkers would have to agree to move by the time the morning workday starts, and there could be conflicts if a resident is not driving to work on certain days or is home sick.

Deanna Rhodes, Norwich director of planning, said a new problem has emerged in which owners of a large parking lot on Church Street and another covered parking deck on Water Street have started renting the spaces at large, not in connection with use of their buildings. Rhodes said the practice violates local zoning regulations without receiving a permit to run a private parking facility.

Rhodes said another problem is that vehicle owners with assigned or even leased spaces in garages or lots still park on the street, taking up a space that could be used for customers.

Gareth Lloyd, executive vice president of Interstate Parking, said in cities where the company manages parking, the firm monitors parking and vacancy rates constantly at varying times of the day and evening. He said the group strives for 95 percent occupancy rates, so that newcomers looking for spaces would find a place to park.

Interstate Parking spent the day in Norwich at no charge to the city. Mayor Peter Nystrom said he expects to receive something in writing from the group with recommendations. Nystrom said other parking management firms also have expressed interest in visiting Norwich.

Nystrom, Mills and other city leaders will meet Wednesday to discuss the workshops and next steps. Nystrom suggested expanding membership on the parking commission to include representatives from city agencies, such as the zoning office, that deal with parking issues.

Mills said the city needs to work out a parking management plan looking two years into the future, when some of the proposed developments come to fruition. He said he has seen how Interstate Parking manages parking in other cities, turning “chaotic” situations into a well-managed system.

c.bessette@theday.com

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