By Russell Blair
WALLINGFORD — Two months after a referendum overturned the Town Council’s decision to spend up to $500,000 to improve the parking lot behind the businesses on Simpson Court in exchange for keeping the lot public, one property owner has made good on his promise to close his portion of the lot to municipal parking.
When the new lease agreement with owners of the four properties abutting the lot was reversed, the town and the property owners reverted to a year-to-year agreement already in place that offered public parking in exchange for plowing and other maintenance by the town.
Jack McGuire, CEO of local insurance company Ferguson and McGuire, owns two of the four properties through a limited liability company, one at 2 N. Main St. and another at 26 N. Main St. He filed his notice to quit the year-to-year agreement in 2009. Shortly after that, he withdrew his notice orally, but not in writing.
“My response would be to treat my property as private property and restrict it to people who use my buildings, period,” McGuire said in August, when asked of his plans if the parking lot deal fell through. “Why should I be maintaining the property for other people? If the town is not going to come in and maintain it as a public parking lot, then I’m going to treat it as a private parking lot.”
McGuire was in Florida on Thursday and could not be reached for comment. But lines drawn on the asphalt at Simpson Court and new parking signs make it clear that the lot has been divided between private and public.
At the point where McGuire’s property ends is painted a white line, with “town” written on one side, and “private” written on the other. Public parking signs which used to sit alongside Center Street near the entrance of the parking lot have been moved to the property line, with arrows designating that public parking begins on the portion of the lot behind Gaetano’s Tavern on Main, 40 N. Main St.
Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said that McGuire contacted the town and requested that the Police Department move the signs last week.
“The signs were moved so it was clear that it was private,” he said. “He’s absolutely free to do that, he canceled the lease.”
It’s unclear what, if any, enforcement action McGuire will take against stray parkers, but Dickinson noted that, on private property, “the owner can have those cars towed.”
If any of the other businesses were to consider charging or limiting access to the lot, they would have to give the town a one-year notice.
Closing off the parking lot could also jeopardize a right of way that has existed between Center and Church streets, traveling through the lot and behind the buildings.
Dickinson said that McGuire has “expressed his consideration of closing that off.”
In a tough economy, Dickinson said losing any municipal parking “hurts the downtown area.”
“There’s no question it’s not a good direction,” he said. “Any change that can be potentially a discouragement to frequent an area is a natural subject of concern.”
Dickinson said that after Monday night’s snowstorm, the town did not plow McGuire’s lot.
Robert Gross, a resident who has run unsuccessfully for the council, started a petition drive a day after the council’s decision, raising the 2,491 signatures needed to force the referendum. Gross declined to comment Thursday on McGuire’s decision.
Nicholas Economopoulos, a Democratic councilor who worked with Gross on the petition, said Thursday he had no comment on McGuire’s decision beyond the fact that it “showed his character.”
“It makes me feel good that we didn’t go into a partnership with him,” he said.
Dickinson said that the full impact of the referendum vote hasn’t likely been seen.
“The potential for a more dramatic shutoff (of the lot) hasn’t been realized,” he said.