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    Friday, January 27, 2023

    Lack of accessible parking a barrier for some in downtown Mystic

    Mystic ― Sandra Lambert wanted to get into the spirit of the season by attending the annual Holiday Lighted Boat Parade in Downtown Mystic last weekend, but she couldn’t find a handicapped spot to park.

    After driving from her home in Preston, she spent 30 minutes trying to find a parking spot, on both sides of the river, before abandoning her plan and heading to Olde Mistick Village for dinner instead.

    “It’s ridiculous. We ended up having to leave because we couldn’t find adequate parking,” she said.

    A shortage of parking in downtown Mystic is a long standing problem. In fact, Groton and Stonington jointly commissioned a parking study, completed in May 2021, to identify solutions, but, for Lambert and others like her, it is far more limiting.

    “You want to be in the spirit of things, especially around Christmas, because that will uplift you. It makes you feel better,” she said, adding holiday events like the boat parade “bring joy to people that have long term illnesses—something that they look forward to, that they want to be able to do.”

    Lambert lives with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that causes her immune system to attack her body. The disorder primarily affects joints causing pain, swelling, and deterioration of the joints, but it can also affect internal organs, as she pointed out.

    To complicate things, she also has asthma, which is made worse by the immune-suppressing RA medications she receives monthly through an IV at a hospital.

    “I said, ‘Okay, maybe next year.’ Well, guess what? Maybe next year I may not be here,” she said, because life is uncertain, as is the state of her health.

    Though she tries to remain active, long walks are often impossible, and the scarcity of handicapped parking spaces within walking distance of downtown Mystic means she often misses out on events or is late for appointments.

    “When I went down for the 100th celebration of the bridge—no parking. When I go down to get my nails done—no parking,” she said, though she credited Mallove’s Jewelers with once allowing her to use the handicapped parking space in its private lot for her nail appointment.

    Both Groton and Stonington recognize that parking downtown needs to be addressed, and the jointly commissioned parking study, completed by John M. Burke Parking & Transit Consulting of Marion, Massachusetts, noted that with new development and redevelopment projects underway, including a number of mixed-use projects that will increase the residential population, the parking supply is under increasing pressure.

    The study found 579 on-street parking spaces within a quarter mile of the drawbridge over the Mystic River. Of that 579, just 8 are handicapped parking spaces.

    Groton Public Works Director Greg Hanover identified three private lots on the Groton side that offer paid parking, and noted that, in the three lots, there are ten handicapped parking spaces.

    Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said there are no paid lots on the Stonington side of downtown Mystic.

    “If you’re going to have all these tourists and all these events, they have to plan a little bit more,” Lambert said.

    “Either designate a small parking lot just for handicapped, or have a service like a taxi service,” she suggested.

    The parking study, though it did not specifically address the issue of handicapped parking availability, made a similar recommendation, and suggested the towns establish a task force to determine if a shuttle service was feasible.

    Chesebrough expressed concern over the parking issue and said residents or visitors should feel comfortable reaching out to her when they encounter issues that need to be addressed.

    She said both Groton and Stonington jointly participate in an advisory committee addressing parking in the downtown area, and the next steps the committee will be taking are to involve residents and the police departments in the two towns, among others, in the discussion.

    “We want to be an inclusive community,” she said, and added she would bring the shortage of handicapped parking up at the next meeting of the advisory board, and would request the Stonington Board of Police Commissioners discuss issues surrounding permanent handicapped parking as well as handicapped parking for events at its January meeting.

    Chesebrough said, “I think this is something that is within all of our bandwidth. It’s not some huge budgetary issue, or something that’s really hard to do, so I think it’s definitely something we could make improvements on.”

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