Parking has been an ongoing problem in downtown Westport due to zoning regulations since the 1960’s, according to Drew Friedman, who founded the Downtown Merchants Association (DMA) in 1971 specifically to develop and improve downtown parking.
There are approximately 2,000 parking spots in downtown Westport, but there are also 1,100 employees that work downtown and also require parking, according to Friedman. Furthermore, 250 of those spots are in the Imperial Avenue Lot, which sits on the opposite side of the Westport Police Department, relative to downtown.
“Depending on which study you look at, we are between 500 and 1000 spaces short of what we need to comply with zoning regulations and to accommodate the number of employees downtown,” said Friedman, who was the Chairman of the DMA for more than 30 years.
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Gail Sagel, the owner of Faces Beautiful, a Westport Salon that has been in business since 2000, moved her business from a downtown Post Road East location to 208 Post Road West mainly because her clients and employees could not find parking.
Sagel suggested something Friedman has been advocating for since 1976, a parking deck above the Baldwin lot, which is located on Elm Street. According to Friedman, the deck would lay level with Elm Street because the parking lot drops down significantly once you have passed the entrance of the lot.
“Let people stay. Why are you kicking people out? They are down there to spend money. Why are you getting rid of them?” Sagel said. “Build a large lot and let everyone pay.”
Ted Kopec, a stylist at Faces Beautiful who commutes from Stratford, called the parking situation in downtown Westport “atrocious.”
“It seemed like by the time I walked to my car I was already halfway home. It was a hike,” Kopec said. “As a commuter, I-95 wasn’t the problem. The problem was, ‘what am I going to do when I get there,’” Kopec said.
Clients frequently got tickets and Faces Beautiful would reimburse them. Employees used to walk each other, or drive each other to their cars after closing during the evening hours, Kopec said.
Friedman acknowledged that the Imperial Lot is nearby the police station, but he said it couldn’t be considered downtown parking for female employees.
“You can’t ask women employees to walk all the way to the imperial lot, even if there are lights,” he said.
Lee Papageorge, a downtown landlord and the owner of Oscar’s Deli, also said something needs to be done to improve downtown parking.
“The number one addition I would like to see is a parking deck, before any other public construction or renovation is done,” Papageorge said.
The opposition to increased parking dates back more than 30 years, Friedman said.
“Nobody wanted to turn Westport into a megalopolis. Nobody wanted to have parking on structure. That was the attitude at the time,” he said, referring to the 1960’s.