It is said that what goes around comes around; that was literally true for me on a recent, bitterly cold Saturday night as I tried to park on Mamaroneck Avenue. I drove down the avenue, around the block, up and back down again - nothing. I drove up the other side and down through Phillips Park, and up the avenue again – still nothing, irritation and cursing increasing with each tedious loop.
The dearth of parking spots on the avenue is an unfortunate side effect of progress. Previously desolate and depressing after dark, the openings of Molly Spillane's, Haiku, Red Plum, Little Kitchen, Ginban, La Herradura and Roasted Peppers have brought new life to a commercial district that appeared to be on life support. This renaissance on Mamaroneck Avenue is welcome. The parking and traffic problem is not.
Cars, once just briefly double parked, are often lined up front to back. Those with spots can't leave, blocked in by cars that are waiting for a spot and unwilling to move. That night, the back up was bad enough to stop traffic all the way to Waverly Avenue.
Evening parking certainly has its challenge, but daytime spots aren't any easier to come by. A quick trip to the ill-situated temporary library can take so long it requires a bathroom stop.
Before 1981 there were no meters on the avenue and employees parked for their convenience, making shopper spots few and far between. The situation was addressed by the current meter system, with two-hour time limits intended to increase turnover. Spaces do become available to customers, but store employees still park there, feeding their meters throughout the day. Traffic officers stopped chalking tires after witnessing many car owners wiping the evidence away, village officials told me.
From Building Inspector John Winter I learned that Village Code doesn't require building permit applicants to prove adequacy of parking if renovating existing spaces, even if intensity of use will change. New construction and existing lots increasing square footage do require proof of parking adequacy. In fact, one space must be available for every three seats in a restaurant and for every 250 feet of gross floor area for an office.
Based on those requirements, the building permits for the new 8,800-square-foot space next to Le Provencal and the 9,000-square-foot Molly Spillane's would require the owners to provide proof of adequate parking for 80 patrons. Neither of them did.
The Code has exceptions. When an applicant is unable or "finds it impracticable" to provide the spaces required, the applicant may offer to grant the Village "appropriately located land for an equivalent amount of parking spaces," assuming the Planning Board agrees.
Where, then, are such new spaces? Often they're not because Village Code has another exception, which offers the applicant an option to pay the Village 60 percent of the cost of the required amount of parking spaces. The money from this exception is to be used exclusively for public parking space purposes benefitting the district.
I imagined the impracticability of available parking for Molly Spillane's, with its velvet rope-contained line of patrons, netted our Village a sizeable sum. It didn't. According to new Village Administrator Rich Slingerland, the owners of the huge bar and restaurant didn't want to pay, so the Zoning Board waived the fee, citing the improvement Spillane's would bring to the district. I tried to speak with new Zoning Board Chair David Neufeld about the board's decision, but he was unavailable.
If businesses can buy their way out of parking requirements or have those requirements waived, what does the future hold for the still developing area? The 238 metered spots on Mamaroneck Avenue, between Boston Post Road and Halstead; 96 on Phillips Park Road; 56 on the upper tier of the Hunter lot; and more on streets and smaller lots in the area sound like a lot. But with new businesses already moved in and more, like Portuguese restaurant Piri, coming every day, a lot is just not enough.
Slingerland is evaluating various solutions, such as including different rates for meters depending on their location, providing more merchant permits and encouraging employees to take advantage of open permit spots nearby.
I fear that parking is just one item on a very long to-do list for Slingerland. So while things are resolved, I have my own list of errands to run and new restaurants to try. When the weather is warm enough I will park further away and walk, appreciating the upside of our thriving business district. In rain, sleet, snow and hail, I'll circle round and round again, supporting local business and working on 2010 New Year's resolution #3, find the positive in every situation and #5, less cussing.