2016-09-08 / Around Town

Middletown Approves Parking Changes

By Olga Enger

Amid varying concerns from both residents and the Middletown Police Department, Town Council has taken steps to address growing parking issues.

“The big problem today is ticketing,” said Payson Fugitt at the Sept. 6 Town Council meeting. “That has to be at someone’s direction. We had 20 years without that.”

Fugitt, who has lived on Kent Road for 50 years, said although the ordinance changed 20 years ago to ban parking on his street, strict enforcement only recently became a problem.

Kent Road is one of 47 Middletown streets near the beaches (south and east of Aquidneck Avenue) that do not allow parking at any time. Residents from Kent Road and Allston Avenue also voiced concerns about receiving tickets in front of their homes.

To provide some relief to residents, councilors approved a change to the law that added an exception for delivery, service or repair vehicles. The amendment was approved 6-0, with Councilor Henry Lombardi absent.

Councilor Paul Rodrigues asserted the change alone was insufficient.

“A lot of those driveways only hold two vehicles,” said Rodrigues. “It’s not right that they live in fear of getting ticketed . . . I couldn’t live like that. I would probably lose my mind. That’s not right. That’s not living.”

In seeking a “common sense” approach, he suggested that the council immediately impose a temporary moratorium on parking tickets for Middletown residents.

“Suppose there are residents that park their cars illegally on the street, obstructing the road?” asked Council President Robert Sylvia.

Councilor Barbara VonVillas urged councilors to support the small change, with an understanding they would revisit the larger issue in the near future.

“This is a very limited amendment that addresses a very small issue,” she said.

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. Town Administrator Shawn Brown said the bump is mostly connected to the stricter enforcement at Dunlap Wheeler Park and the 13 public spots in the Newport Beach House parking lot. Brown reported that the increase in tickets translates to about $2,000 in additional revenue, which is deposited into the town’s general fund.

Although councilors agreed they should lessen the parking burden on residents, they also approved through a 6-0 vote an amendment that would double the fine for parking tickets. Councilors increased the fine to $40 for general parking violations, fire lanes and snow emergencies. After 30 days, the fee increases to $80 and jumps to $120 after 60 days of nonpayment.

Police recommended the change in fines after council approved a $5 increase for daily beach parking fees, bringing the cost to $15 on weekdays and $25 on weekends. With a parking ticket at only $20, visitors are being encouraged to park illegally, police said.

“What we have found is that people are taking a chance at parking illegally and walking to the beach,” said Chief Anthony Pesare at the Aug. 15 council meeting. “Parking in a no-parking zone, there should be a disincentive for it, so that is why we are asking for the increase.”

In a recent survey put out to residents and businesses of Lower Easton’s Point (LEP), 61 percent of the 119 people who responded reported that parking was adequate in the area for resident use, and 38 percent agreed parking was sufficient for commercial use.

However, only 43 percent of respondents agreed they were satisfied with the town’s current ordinances for the area.

During the Aug. 15 meeting, councilors discussed exploring a possible resident sticker program, similar to Newport. In a memo attached to the survey results, Brown cautioned against such a program.

“The roadways in the LEP area are generally narrow; cars parked on the roadway will impede the response of public safety personnel resulting in greater risks to our residents’ health, safety and welfare,” wrote Brown. He also emphasized the additional expense of enforcement and program administration.

Town staff is already preparing a plan to correct the signage in the LEP area. Only 28 percent of the survey responses agreed that signage there was adequate.

“While some signage may be added, the administration will continue to implement the ‘sign diet’ program and remove unnecessary signage,” Brown wrote.

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