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Letter to Town Council Bus Parking Fact Finding Committee

Dear Members of the Town Council Bus Parking Fact Finding Committee,

As Chairman of the Parking Commission, thank you for your diligence is pursuing this controversial matter on behalf of the town of New Canaan. I wanted to provide you with some input for your consideration.

I have noted with concern that the Talmadge Hill parking lot is among the alternatives you are still considering. This is to request that you remove it from the list. There is a commuter and commercial parking shortage in New Canaan. All of the town parking lots, whether commuter or commercial, are desperately needed. Unless that situation changes, under almost no circumstances should the Town ever accept any proposal that eliminates or degrades any town parking lot. For the Talmadge Hill Parking Lot in particular, there is currently a waiting list of over 165 people. These people deserve your support. The Parking Commission proposed expanding the existing Talmadge Hill Parking Lot and our proposal has been approved by all the necessary Commissions (Environment and P&Z). If we can obtain more land from the State for commuter parking at Talmadge Hill, we have enough people on the waiting list to fill those lots too.

It should be noted that there are long waiting lists for all the New Canaan commuter permit parking lots. If we can provide more commuter permits spots, then we can get some cars out of the town supermarkets, gas stations, etc. so these spaces can be available for town commercial parking. Accordingly, there is a demonstrated immediate need for the additional parking spaces that would be created by the proposed Talmadge Hill Parking Lot expansion. Please note that expanding the Talmadge Hill Parking Lot will generate additional permit revenue and would pay for itself.

The Parking Commission is opposed to the idea of putting school buses at Talmadge Hill. In our view, this is unnecessary and would be expensive and could lead to dangerous traffic and congestion. Our fundamental objection, however, is that the town cannot afford to give up the rare and valuable opportunity to increase commuter parking that we have at Talmadge Hill.

I am grateful that your published remarks have shown a fair comparison of the alternatives. This is to request that you continue to be fair in your analysis. Frankly, it appeared that the first group that analyzed the alternatives utilized uneven standards. Specifically, they threw out a number of alternatives after finding some obstacles but obstacles of the variety that might have been overcome with some effort or an allocation of resources. The Talmadge Hill proposal was untenable from the start but the group spent weeks negotiating with the State regarding the acquisition of additional land (that the state wants to be used for additional commuter parking) and came up with a plan that would cost over $1 million in initial expenses plus the foregone parking meter/permit revenue. The plan still has huge traffic, environment and neighborhood issues that can never be resolved. Yet, it was proposed as the best alternative!! If those members had spent the same energy and willingness to spend the town resources and to ignore problems on the other ideas floated, then who knows what viable alternatives might have been identified and proposed? Certainly, our view is that on a level playing field, the Talmadge Hill alternative would have been rejected early in the process.

Inasmuch as most school children are driven to school and home every school day by these buses and the buses must necessarily spend time at every school for these drop offs and pick ups, then our children are breathing in the exhaust fumes regularly no matter where the buses are parked. This illustrates that the parking location for the buses is only one part of the health question. It has been suggested that the answer is to retrofit the buses so that instead of using diesel oil, they are powered by either hydrogen or natural gas to eliminate/reduce the pollution created by their exhaust. If this idea is feasible and were implemented, then the bus parking location should logically cease to be an issue from a health perspective.

The view of the Parking Commission is that the school buses issue only arose because the buses are now being parked close to South Avenue where they can be seen. When they were parked back by the water tower, no one objected. Accordingly, the school bus parking location controversy appears to be mostly about the "Not in my backyard" syndrome. If the health of the students is the genuine concern, then the optimal solution would appear to be to fix the buses themselves.

There are alternative locations, like the Armory for example, to locate the school buses which may not be available today, but which may become available in a year or so. The town should not lock itself into a less than superior alternative when we have the flexibility to leave the buses at the high school in the short run. We should do what is in the best long term interest of the town. If no good alternatives are available now, why not leave the buses where they are until a better location becomes available?

I note without endorsing any one of them that there are other alternatives that do not appear to be on your list. If you are willing to spend weeks negotiating with state agencies and are willing to spend millions of Town tax dollars and are willing to ignore traffic and neighborhood issues and the opposition of a Town Commission (as it seems you are with the Talmadge Hill alternative), wouldn't the Pool parking lot, Kiwanis Park, Winsome Farms, the Armory, etc. all become at least equally feasible alternatives?

Good luck in your efforts. Please contact me if you wish to discuss this.

Respectfully submitted,

Keith Richey 
Chairman, Parking Commission of New Canaan

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