BEACON FALLS — Highland Avenue residents brought complaints about parking on the street to the Board of Selectmen Monday night.
Residents complained that non-residents are parking on the street, and their cars often block driveways and make the narrow street difficult to navigate.
Highland Avenue resident David Brown said the majority of the people who park along the road are staff from Laurel Ledge Elementary School, which is at 30 Highland Ave.
“It’s the same cars every day. Some use it on their cigarette breaks to go out there and smoke. Others just park there because they don’t want to have to walk,” Brown said.
Brown pointed out that the school recently constructed a new parking lot for the staff to use.
“They have a brand new beautiful parking lot, so they should be able to utilize that,” Brown said.
Highland Avenue resident Jen Doiron added that parents park on the road during the morning and afternoon when they are picking up or dropping off their child at the school.
Doiron said she had spoken with Laurel Ledge Elementary School Principal Regina Murzak, but the problem has persisted.
Gretchen Carlson, a Highland Avenue resident and Beacon Hose Co. No. 1 Emergency Medical Technician, said the parking problem can be a safety issue. She said she responded to a call on Highland Avenue recently and had a difficult time reaching the house
“It was really difficult to get the ambulance up Highland Avenue with the foot traffic, the parked cars, and the garbage truck coming down the road,” Carlson said.
First Selectman Christopher Bielik said he would speak with Murzak and that he has been in contact with police about the issue.
“What we are trying to do is to get the police force to at least have a greater presence in that area, especially during those high traffic times of morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up,” Bielik said. “Personally I have seen cars that were parked in bad places and I have tried to get our resident trooper, or whichever officer happened to be on duty at the time, to get out and find who the offender is and get them to move.”
Bielik said the town could start towing the offenders, but he doesn’t want to explore that option, yet.
“I would hate to have to use the stick that heavily on people. It would be nice if people would just respect the neighbors in the area,” Bielik said.
However, Bielik said, having a car towed would likely prevent people from blocking a driveway or crosswalk again.
“One thing I have learned is, if people don’t like to walk very far for their cigarette break, they don’t like paying $50 and walking a longer way to get their car back,” Bielik said.
Bielik said the Board of Selectmen, which is also the town’s traffic authority, is also looking at making the street residential parking only.
Highland Avenue resident Paul Brennan said the residents dealt with people parking along the road while the school’s parking lot was under construction and did not complain.
“We dealt with it. We knew there was no parking and we didn’t have an issue. We gave a little bit and now it is time for them to give back,” Brennan said.
Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said, in a subsequent interview, that the region wants to be a good neighbor.
However, Yamin said, there are no state statutes or region by-laws that require staff to park solely on school property. This means that the school cannot force its staff to park in certain areas.
Murzak echoed Yamin’s comments, saying the cars that are parking on the street are legally parked.
“We know it’s an issue, but the staff parking there are parking in town-marked spots. There are no signs there saying they can’t park there. I can’t dictate they don’t park on the street,” Murzak said.
Murzak said when she first heard the complaints she checked with the police department and was assured that it was legal. However, Murzak said, she will continue to encourage her staff to park in the lot.
The town is planning a reconstruction of Highland Avenue that will widen the street. The project is expected to help to alleviate some of the congestion and parking problems residents are encountering on Highland Avenue.
Bielik said the state had not released the funds for the grant as of Monday and the reconstruction of the road would not take place until spring 2016.