On Monday morning a special Board of Selectmen meeting solicited input from residents and merchants on ways to improve the village Old Greenwich.
There had been talk of extending outdoor dining to the village of Old Greenwich during the pandemic, but merchants responded they did not want to sacrifice parking.
“We’re open to any and all ideas,” First Selectman Fred Camillo said at the outset of the meeting.
“It’s quirky in a charming way,” Camillo said of the village. “It’s got that great village feel we’ve loved our whole lives and we want to keep that.”
Old Greenwich village is unique in Greenwich in that there are no parking meters on Sound Beach Ave.
Candace Garthwaite suggested the town seek arrangements for extra parking with nearby churches whose parking lots are often empty during the week.
She also noted that after recent improvements at the train station, there was significantly more parking there.
“I think opening up the school (parking lot) on weekends, and making sure there is a dedicated employee parking lot for employees who work in stores,” said Gary Cunningham, adding that employees and rail commuters take advantage of the free on street parking.
He said when drivers reverse out of the diagonal spots on Sound Beach Ave traffic often backs up south of Old Greenwich School.
Justin Bagnati, who owns Black Oak Velo, a bike store, noted that beach traffic causes backups and recommended assigning police to direct traffic to keep the flow going. He urged the Selectmen not to eliminate any parking spots.
Charlene Barnes asked whether the town might be able to pay for some parking spots at the train station, noting it might be cost effective.
She described Arcadia Road as “a mess” and suggested making it one-way.
Barnes said the wait at the red light at the intersection of Arcadia and Sound Beach Ave is very long, and awkward, given it does not align with West End Ave.
Paul Pugliese said in the wake of recent pressure on zoning coming from the State of CT, he anticipated Old Greenwich will be targeted as lacking affordable, diverse housing.
He said the town missed an opportunity when the parking lot was redone at the train station, and should have asked for parking on multiple levels.
“I think that’s still a possibility, and if you couple that with possible housing in Old Greenwich, the back parking lot by the Post Office would be an ideal area for transit oriented housing as well as additional parking.”
Rich Fulton, owner of Chillybear, recalled a walk-through with merchants and former parking services director Rita Azrelyant.
“What Rita had proposed was re striping the employee parking lot behind the Old Greenwich School back stop, putting lighting in, and putting a brick embossed crosswalk that would lead to the alley between CVS and Rosie’s.”
He agreed merchants had concerns about enforcement.
He estimated at least 100 employees drove to the village daily, and too often they park in the 2 hour spaces and leave their cars in them all day.
Jim Michel, Deputy Commissioner of Public Works, said much of the work Mr. Fulton suggested had already been done.
He said Parking Services offered permits to employees to use that lot behind CVS. He estimated there were about 25 spaces for employees there, and that while it appears to be a large municipal lot, much of it is privately owned.
LuAnn Bellantoni of Parking services said the permits cost $175 annually.
“It is not highly sought after. It is merchant-only and they have to prove employment by local merchants or entities of OG.”
As for parking at OG railroad station, there is a multi-space machine for day parking,” she said, adding that it costs $7.00 a day to park there.
Linnea Stenberg said all too often drivers heading south do u-turns on Sound Beach Ave to pull into a diagonal spot, which is dangerous.
She said there had been a temporary crosswalk by the train underpass during construction, and recommended installing one permanently.
“There were lights that flashed when someone was waiting, and it made it much more safe,” Stenberg said. “That was taken away after repairs and now there are often people who cross between cars in the middle of the block from (Upper Crust Bagels) to Dunkin Donuts.”
Abby Fox who owns Abigail Fox Designs, agreed.
“On half days and nice days, kids tend to hang out in front of Garden Catering…It’s just dangerous with people crossing,” she said.
On the topic of enforcement, Ms Fox said people park in front of her store all day long and jump on the train.
“If parking is not enforced on Sound Beach, I don’t see the incentive for employees to buy permits for $175....I don’t think I’ve ever seen any parking enforcement on Sound Beach and I’ve been there almost 13 years.”Abby Fox, owner Abigail Fox Designs
Garthwaite said in front of Sound Beach Pizza, people park beyond the striped spots, blocking the view of drivers coming out of the railroad station parking lot. She suggested creating a bumpout to prevent people parking there.
Similarly, Peter McDermott said too often people park in front of the fire hydrant at CVS and run across the street.
Owners of the needlepoint studio, The Village Ewe, Estelle and Ken Hall, who have operated for 51 years said they purchase two merchants spot permits for their employees and noted there are typically only six cars in that log on any given day.
“It probably needs to be better merchandised,” he said. “Parking Services makes you go through hoops to get a spot.”
Also, he said merchants were all in favor of parking enforcement to ensure spots are dedicated to customers. He noted many of his clients are elderly, and have a hard time walking longer distances.
Lastly, he said trees had been leaning on power lines in front of his store for a couple years.
Marcos Torno, owner of Images at 202 Sound Beach Ave agreed that enforcement was inadequate and employees often used the spot in front of his store.
However, he said since the pandemic, employees from restaurants and merchants have been using the Bank of America lot because the bank has been closed.
Charlene Barnes said the $175 permit fee for an employee parking permit behind CVS might be a barrier.
She it might be wiser to give businesses a certain number of spaces there and ask them to make sure their employees use the lot.
“If it frees up a parking spot it’s well worth $175 to the town,” Barnes said.
Rob Guerrieri from Upper Crust Bagel Co, who has been in business 27 years, said she has 15-20 minimum wage employees who can not no afford $175 for a permit for the employee parking lot and look for whatever free space they can find.
“I think it would be a great idea for the town to offer that employee parking lot for free,” he said.
Guerrieri recommended a bump out in front of Applausi because too often cars or trucks park across the crosswalk creating a safety concern.
“We don’t want parking meters because that would get rid of the nice ambiance of our town. If we can get someone to force a person not to park there more than two hours, that would be fantastic.”Rob Guerrieri, owner Upper Crust Bagel Co
Jay Feinsod, owner of the hardware store agreed enforcement was needed.
Feinsod said he paid for four employees to park in the employee lot behind CVS, and didn’t think $175 was too much.
“That’s $14 a month. That’s 50¢ a day,” he said. “It’s not a lot of money.”
He said safety concerns included children bicycling on sidewalks, and said that even a minimal police presence would have an impact.
Mr. Feinsod urged Mr. Camillo not to remove any additional parking spaces.
He said that when recent road work and paving was completed, he lost a spot in front of his store, that Back 40 lost one, and the barber shop lost a third.
Carolyn Peterson, president of Old Greenwich School PTA asked for police enforcement in the parking lot behind the school after dismissal. She also asked for a gate to stop drivers from cutting through the school, and behind CVS to West End Ave. She agreed a second crosswalk up by Sound Beach Pizza would increase safety.
Betsy Kreuter Old Greenwich Garden Club said a stop sign had been removed between Arcadia Rd and the train station and that as a result cars speed through.
“Somebody is going to have a crash back there,” she said, adding the suggestion that a yellow line be redrawn from Arcadia, and around the curve in the parking lot.
Camillo took copious notes, gave out his cell phone number, and vowed to follow up on suggestions and questions.
He said input sessions were valuable and should be repeated once a year in each part of town.
“There may be things brought to our attention that we were not aware of, like today, that we’ve written down,” Camillo said. “You gave us a lot of homework here to do.”
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