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Sunday, September 16, 2012

WALLINGFORD - Wooding-Caplan lot project stalled

Many unhappy paving won’t be finished for Celebrate Wallingford, while others still think parking isn’t needed

As published in the Record Journal Sunday September 16, 2012

By Russell Blair
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2225

WALLINGFORD - Work on a temporary municipal parking lot on the town-owned Wooding-Caplan property is stalled, but officials say they are confident, if permits come through, that construction will be completed before winter.

Town Engineer John Thompson said the town is still waiting for permits from the state Department of Transportation to begin work on the Wallace Avenue portion of the project. The town plans to create 100 parking spaces at a cost of about $200,000.

“We’re moving ahead but we’re not moving as fast as I would like,” Thompson said. “We’re pushing for the permits. The state knows it’s important to get this done.”

Thompson said town crews began a paving project on North Plains Industrial Road last Sunday and are storing the millings from that job to use for the temporary parking lot. Once the permits are approved, the work on the parking lot shouldn’t take too long, he said.

There are three aspects to the project: work to improve the parking lot surrounding the police station, which has already begun; the widening of Wallace Avenue into a standard, two-lane town road; and laying down millings to create a temporary lot with an expected lifespan of seven to 10 years.

Officials had hoped to have the lot done in time for Celebrate Wallingford, the two-day festival that will be held uptown this year, but that’s not likely to happen with the event three weeks away.

“Am I disappointed? Yes,” Republican Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau said. “Am I surprised? No. If this was a private entity, it would be done already, but because we’re a municipality we have to jump through so many hoops it’s incredible.”

Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein said it would be “a travesty” if the new lot is not done in time for Celebrate Wallingford.

“I think it stinks,” he said. “I brought this issue to the forefront in February with the intent of it being done quickly.”

Elizabeth Landow, the executive director of Wallingford Center Inc., the downtown business advocacy group, said she was told by town staff that the lot should be available during Celebrate Wallingford even if the project isn’t complete, but other arrangements have also been made.

“We hired a trolley and we’ll be using that to bring people from the parking lots at Doolittle Park and behind Brothers Restaurant,” she said. “But we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can park cars [on Wooding-Caplan].”

LeTourneau and Fishbein believe the temporary lot will get heavy use because they say people are already parking there in its current condition: an unlighted patch of grass.

“Go on a Friday or Saturday night and look at the cars parked back there,” Le-Tourneau said.

In a letter to Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., Landow said her organization supported the Wooding-Caplan project.

“Downtown revitalization, to which the town has historically committed so many resources, is at an important crossroad,” she wrote. “The proposal to install temporary parking in the Wooding Caplan area is a very positive step in continuing the process. ... Decent parking improves the downtown which is an asset of the entire town.”

Landow proposed additional improvements to the other town-owned lots downtown, including the repair and resurfacing of the pavement,striping, lighting improvements, better signage and landscaping.

But others have raised questions about whether there is a need for more parking. A 2004 study ordered by the Planning and Zoning Commission concluded that there was adequate parking in the downtown area but “customers must be willing to park in rear lots and walk up to a block to their destination.”

Among the recommendations included in the study was better advertising and a marketing plan for the parking that’s currently available.

“Education is also the key to convincing people that parking in a downtown might mean walking as far as a block to reach their destination, but that it is probably less walking than they do each week at the grocery store,” according to the study.

Democratic Town Councilor Jason Zandri agreed.

“I think we need a better outlining of public parking in the downtown,” he said. “There’s plenty of parking behind Town Hall. It’s not that far.”

“For some reason, a couple of blocks seems onerous,” Thompson said, noting that in larger cities such as Hartford or New Haven it’s common to park and walk a block or two.

Democratic Town Councilor Nicholas Economopoulos said he disagreed with the project from the start, believing the town should spend money on improving other downtown lots.

“I can’t see spending money on something temporary,” he said.

Economopoulos said he wasn’t surprised that substantial work on the project hadn’t begun. He noted that last year he had proposed creating a parking commission to develop a plan for downtown parking.

“It’s another example of a lack of planning and a lack of follow-through by our town,” Economopoulos said.



Photos by Christopher Zajac, courtesy of the Record-Journal

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