2016-08-25 / Front Page

Middletown Cracks Down on Parking

Councilors Suggest Resident Sticker Program to Address Parking Issues
By Olga Enger

Although the 2016 season is still in full throttle, Middletown police have already issued over 30 percent more parking tickets than they did in the entire year of 2015.

As of Aug. 22, police have written 213 tickets, which compares to 2015’s total of 143 parking citations. Police received 48 parking complaints in 2015, with 31 calls coming in so far this year.

“I can’t tell you the number of creative ways people use to try to avoid paying to go to the beach or just to park illegally,” said Middletown Police Chief Anthony Pesare at the Aug. 15 council meeting. “We get calls about it all the time.”

Police assign six details to beach parking on the weekends, according to the department. At the meeting, Middletown councilors got a first look at proposed amendments to three ordinances that would double the parking ticket penalty, remove a provision that allows delivery and service trucks to park on roads with parking bans, and restrict parking on a small lot at the end of Paradise and Green End avenues. Council is expected to vote on the changes at the Sept. 6 meeting.

In the spring, council approved a $5 increase for daily beach parking fees, bringing the cost to $15 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. A parking ticket is $20 in Middletown, which police claim encourages illegal parking now that beach fees for visitors are higher.

The police department proposed doubling the fine to $40 for general parking violations, fire lanes and snow emergencies. After 30 days, the fee would increase to $80 and jump to $120 after 60 days of nonpayment. Revenues from parking tickets are deposited into Middletown’s general fund.

“We try to pick a reasonable amount of money, based on the fact that we receive more and more complaints about illegal parking. Especially since we went to a different daily rate and weekend rate,” said Pesare, who was serving as acting town administrator during the August meeting.

“What we have found is that people are taking a chance at parking illegally and walking to the beach,” Pesare said. Since the $20 parking ticket is now cheaper than the weekend daily rate, more visitors are taking the risk. “Parking in a no-parking zone, there should be a disincentive for it, so that is why we are asking for the increase,” said the chief.

Another amendment to the town code seeks to close up at least one loophole visitors have found to paying beach fees.

“I went by the old pump parking lot on Paradise Avenue on Sunday. There were 15 cars parked there and I saw someone come back with a van and drop the people off,” said Councilor Theresa Santos about the small town lot at the intersection of Paradise and Green End avenues.

“That has been a thorn in my side all summer, the past couple of summers” Councilor Paul Rodrigues agreed. “Every weekend there are 15 cars there at least. They are avoiding the beach fee.”

“I don’t think it’s right that we impose parking restrictions all in Easton’s Point and all over the place but allow that to happen,” said Rodrigues. He raised the issue to Town Administrator Shawn Brown earlier this summer.

An amendment to the town code’s fee schedule would restrict that lot for beach pass parking only, said Town Solicitor Peter Regan.

“I think the issue is to look at whether or not that lot, rather than open public parking, has been designated as restricted parking,” Regan said, adding they will have more information at the Sept. 6 meeting.

Visitors also avoid the beach fee by parking at Paradise Park, said Santos.

There are 47 Middletown streets near the beaches (south and east of Aquidneck Avenue) that do not allow parking at any time. Some residents claim the ban is too restrictive for residents.

“My real concern is that I don’t want to read in the newspaper what I read about in Newport, about people who come to visit and get into parking troubles,” said Payson Fugitt, who has lived on Kent Road for 50 years.

The residents of Kent Road, one of the 47 that prohibits street parking, have signed a petition to remove their street from the list. One resident told council her family has three cars, and has no choice but to park on the road. She recently received a ticket from Middletown police.

Rodrigues agreed the town should be mindful of unintended consequences to residents.

“Say I’m having a party, whether it’s a baptism, it’s a graduation, it’s anything. Most families have two or three vehicles,” said Rodrigues. “Your kids get older, you may have four or five vehicles. So where do they park them?”

He asked if it was time to consider a resident sticker parking program, similar to Newport.

“The police department uses a great deal of discretion,” said Pesare. “Oftentimes we call people and ask them to move their vehicles before we issue the violation. Oftentimes people will call us, and tell us they are having a party.” He added parking restrictions originated from resident complaints.

“We are sort of inundated with this sort of thing,” said the chief.

Council President Robert Sylvia agreed it may be “long overdue” to review a potential resident sticker program.

“I think there is a balance, but it has to be a defined balance. I’m not really in favor of leaving discretion in people’s hands. Because I don’t think it’s fair,” said Sylvia, a retired police officer.

Councilor Henry Lombardi, a retired Newport police officer, warned of the complexity of resident sticker enforcement.

“For enforcement to be consistent, you have to dedicate people to be checking on a regular basis. That costs money,” said Lombardi, who was in charge of Newport’s traffic division for a period of time.

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