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    Monday, August 08, 2022

    Old Lyme residents alarmed by hike in Sound View beach visitor parking fees

    Vehicles are parked in the Sound View Beach area of Old Lyme in 2013. The town is increasing parking fees. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

    Old Lyme — Beginning this Friday, new beach visitor parking fees will take effect for the Sound View beach community’s 2022 summer season.

    On weekends and holidays, all-day parking fees in the town lot will increase by $15 to $75 — or $79.76 with tax. The new “half-day” parking rate will be $45 plus tax for any block of five hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m.

    On weekdays, the cost to park for five hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. will be $30 plus tax and the all-day rate will be $45 plus tax.

    Visitors will not be charged from 6 p.m. until the lot closes at 9 p.m.

    Street parking for two-hour blocks will remain at $9 on weekdays and $12 for weekends. Additional two-hour blocks could be purchased after a 15-minute grace period.

    The town also raised the cost of the private lot owners permit from $30 per space to $85 per space. Some lots are paying upward of $2,000 for their permit and now are forced to raise their prices for customers.

    The Board of Selectmen met at a special meeting Wednesday and voted to approve the Sound View Commission's recommendations to extend the town parking lot hours to 9 p.m. and to allow the flexible half-day parking hours, Selectwoman Martha Shoemaker said.

    Twelve residents and business owners attended the Sound View Commission's meeting Monday at the Shoreline Community Center, 39 Hartford Ave. Several of them expressed frustration and anger over what they deemed to be exorbitant rate increases.

    “What decent person that pays a mortgage, that has a family, is going to pay $80 to park?” Sound View Commission voting member Frank Marratta said. He owns The Pavilion at 85 Swan Ave., a beachfront bar. His main concern is that the “unwelcoming parking rates” are not family-friendly and will decrease traffic to the area and directly impact the businesses.

    Commission Chairman Frank Pappalardo said the new fees were determined by the cost to operate the beach, including the police, the rangers, public services and what it costs the private Miami Beach Association for cleaning and security on its adjacent portion of the beach. Every 14-week summer season, it costs the town roughly $230,000 to operate the beach. Public Works labor alone for trash collection costs over $23,000, he said.

    Marratta called for the commission to recall the proposed parking rates and send them back to the Board of Selectmen for further discussion, but he was not supported.

    “I think we should recall the decision immediately made by the Soundview Advisory Sub-Committee because it was never passed through us," he said.

    "This is the recommendation of the Sound View Commission to the selectpeople,” Pappalardo replied.

    Pappalardo said the Sound View Advisory Sub-Committee and Board of Selectmen had voted to approve the full-day and half-day parking fee increases at the board's May 9 meeting.

    However, he said that the commission was proposing the adjustment to the hours of parking availability so that people can opt to choose any five-hour window for their half-day parking fee. This was an improvement over the previous half-day option limited to between 2 and 7 p.m., which was considered too rigid.

    “In past years, we’ve always had the issue of a second wave of people coming down around the 4 p.m. timeframe. It seemed they were not there to enjoy the beach but to cause trouble,” Pappalardo said. He reminded meeting attendees of vandalism and disturbances of the peace caused by some beach visitors who arrived later in the evening that required additional security and cleanup during the 2021 summer season.

    "When there's extra traffic here, they all benefit," Angelo Grasso said, referring to supermarkets and other businesses. He is one of the private parking lot owners in town. "The part I have a hard time swallowing is that this is the second time that you have tripled the parking costs to clean the beaches. What makes my business different than all the other businesses? Is it legal to target a business to clean up the beach?"

    “All these decisions that are made, we’re all left out. It’s not right,” Grasso added, referring to the business owners who can’t attend inconvenient meeting times, such as 9 a.m., by the Sound View Advisory Sub-Committee that recommended the parking rates.

    Some residents were not concerned about parking for themselves. They were more interested in the town being more welcoming to visitors.

    “We need to have more public input. The parking costs are outrageous. It says we want to keep people away from Sound View beach and I don’t have that attitude,” resident Kathleen Tracy said.

    Thomas Larson, owner of a junk removal company, said there was no justification for the rate hike.

    “There was no increase in services for the people that come down here. No bathrooms, community showers and bath houses which we’ve been promised for years,” he said. “So you’re continuing to increase the fee and take away parking spots. Inflation is through the roof, and you think that it’s logical to triple the fee?” He added that the new parking fees should be repealed and go to public comment and vote.

    Pappalardo said more frequent and formal meetings in recent months between the commission, the Board of Selectmen and the police had taken place to address public safety concerns. He said the commission was empowered to increase the number of town parking spots to accommodate more season parking pass holders, and to increase the fees for the town and private parking lots to what the town officials deem necessary to defray beach operating expenses.

    “I certainly understand everyone’s concerns and passions for what they believe but the big issue here is to try to find some sort of middle ground,” Pappalardo said after the meeting. “In the past year or two the residents have demanded more service, more police, more parking spaces for town passes.”

    The town has roughly 300 parking spots. In the town lot, Pappalardo said, the town doubled the spots reserved for town residents with a parking season pass, from 7 to 15. When those are full, residents with a pass can park in any paid parking spot in town.

    “What is being requested of us we’re doing,” he added. “Somewhere along the line, something’s got to give elsewhere.”

    According to Paul Orzel, an alternate member of the Sound View Commission, compared to last year’s parking lot rates, which cost $10 for each two-hour block, an all-day stay would have cost $60 and the lots would have closed at 7 p.m. Now visitors can pay the additional $15 and stay an additional two hours until 9 p.m. He said they also could keep putting money in the two-hour parking meters every hour and 45 minutes.

    “It’s more important to note that there’s only a $15 increase on an all-day stay on Saturdays and Sundays. They would be paying only until 6 p.m. and they can stay until closing time, 9 p.m.,” Orzel said. “Their anger is so overwhelming that they can’t see that it’s not that much. Somehow that message is lost.”

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