West Hartford Police ticketed dozens of cars on Robin Road during two nights in late June, prompting an outcry and another review of the ordinance.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford’s overnight parking ban was suspended for much of the pandemic – initially to accommodate a large and sudden influx of cars belonging to college students returning to town and other changes in work, travel, and living habits – but while the ban was reinstated as of February 2022, there are areas where residents have continued to park on the street overnight without consequences.
That changed early the morning of June 27, when all of the vehicles parked on Robin Road – dozens that lined the street, many of which had been parking there every night – were ticketed by police.
“We have agreed to take a look at our overnight parking ordinance,” Town Manager Rick Ledwith told We-Ha.com, noting that town officials understand that this is more than a non-compliance problem and there are several areas of town where there is not enough off-street parking available.
Jenna Atlas moved with her partner to Robin Road in April 2023. “Our apartment is a two-bedroom apartment, but in our building there is only one parking space per apartment,” she said. She’s in her final year of obtaining her doctorate in physical therapy at the University of Hartford, and needs her car to get to class and her clinicals. Her partner has a car, too.
When they looked at the apartment and signed the lease, “the landlord said there was free parking on the road,” Atlas said.
After waking up that Tuesday morning in late June to find the $20 ticket, Atlas said she contacted the landlord, who then told her she needed to register her car through the West Hartford Police Department’s “Omit System” to avoid being ticketed – something she said she had not previously been told about.
Atlas registered her car after that first night, and didn’t get a ticket when she left her car on the street overnight, but one of her neighbors across the hall, who didn’t register their car, got a ticket the second night as well.
“I heard someone from down the street complained, that there wasn’t enough room to drive down the street,” Atlas said of the situation that led to the first night of ticketing.
After the first wave of tickets Robin Road residents began reaching out to town officials. They were informed about the town’s longstanding ordinance, but Atlas said there are few options for those who live on a street that’s dense with multi-family housing – some of which was built a century ago when there were fewer cars to worry about. Her apartment building was constructed in 1928, and has limited onsite parking. While single-family homes on the north end of Robin Road have driveways, “We’re not in that living situation,” Atlas said.
Ledwith confirmed that West Hartford Police had indeed received a call from a Robin Road resident regarding the lack of enforcement of the overnight parking ban, and after 2 a.m. on June 27 they ticketed vehicles parked on the road.
He said he understands that there is a problem, that there are many two-bedroom units in the buildings on Robin Road where only one off-street parking space is guaranteed. While the block of Robin Road north of Milton is primarily single-family residences, the block between Farmington Avenue and Milton is mostly multi-family.
Atlas said she was advised by someone at Town Hall that overnight parking is available in one of the Blue Back Square garages. “It’s $14 per night for exactly eight hours of parking,” she said, noting that’s not a viable solution not just because it’s a several-block walk, but also due to the expense and the time restriction. As a graduate student, she doesn’t keep normal workday hours.
Obtaining an omit under the current program is only a short-term situation because allows overnight on-street parking for a maximum of seven days per month.
“The amount of cars people have now, it’s not like that’s going away,” she said. She said there are very few people she has met who live in one of the apartments or condominiums on Robin Road and don’t own a car.
Altas has launched a website and a group on WhatsApp, and has been meeting with her neighbors to try to keep the momentum going to find a long-term solutions for residents of Robin Road and other similar areas.
“We have a system where we rotate for street parking, and it’s worked since we have been here,” said Phoebe Law, who has lived in a three-bedroom apartment on Robin Road for the past four years with several different roommates.
The arrangement was actually in place before she moved into the apartment but added that while it was more convenient to park off-street, “there was always an understanding that we would be able to park on the street without being bothered.”
That was largely true, said Law, who said she has received one ticket and some roommates never received any until June 27.
“We can afford an apartment. We love living there but it’s not affordable to pay basically another monthly rent,” she said of the option of parking in one of the garages. She said she would love to be able to take public transportation, but most people need to drive to work.
Tommy Li said his company, Hexagon Farmington Ave. LLC, has been the owner of the building where both Atlas and Law live for a bit less than two years. “Since the ticketing, the town has been very helpful,” he told We-Ha.com. “They’ve waived ticket costs, and the police won’t be ticketing until they figure out what to do,” he said.
Li said he reached out to the town right after the tickets were issued in late June, and said he wants to work together with the town to come up with a plan to address the parking shortage.
“Hopefully in the future they’re going to actively come up with something to create a new solution,” Atlas said. And she is glad that in the meantime the town has suspended the overnight parking ban for Robin Road.
“Police did receive a complaint that we weren’t enforcing the overnight parking ordinance and did go out and ticket cars and we did receive an outcry from the residents who do live in the apartment buildings. And we do know there’s just simply not enough parking in those complexes,” Ledwith said at a meeting of the Town Council’s Public Works, Facilities, and Sustainability Committee on July 6.
Ledwith said he and staff are meeting internally, and will bring recommendations to the committee to address the problem, likely at the next meeting on Thursday, Sept. 7.
Options, he said, include lifting the ordinance town-wide, as was done during the pandemic, “or we also look at the possibility of establishing an overnight parking permit for residents.”
In addition to looking at a change to the ordinance, or establishing a residential parking permit, Ledwith said the town could look at expanding the omit system to allow registered vehicles to park on the street for the entire month.
West Hartford has had some form of an overnight parking for more than six decades – since the first restriction was passed in 1957 – and the current ordinance was codified in 1993. During the pandemic the overnight parking ban was lifted entirely (although it was temporarily reinstated during the winter months in 2020 and 2021 to allow for plowing), but reinstated for good as of Feb. 1, 2022.
The town manager serves as the “traffic authority” for the town, and Ledwith’s predecessor as town manager, Matt Hart, said during a Jan. 6, 2022 meeting of the Council’s Public Works, Facilities, and Sustainability Committee that while there were few complaints when the ban was first suspended, the situation changed as more and more vehicles were being left on the street.
“More recently we have received some complaints,” Hart said on Jan. 6, 2022, with concerns including litter and late night disturbances. “Of more concern for us is some of the people struggling with their trash collection,” he said, because of vehicles parked in front of homes.
The Town Council has been discussing amendments to the overnight parking ban ordinance at the committee level for years, but a resolution has not been brought to the full body for a vote. In January 2022, Hart – who left his position with the town the following month for a role as executive director of the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) – said town staff would begin reaching out to owners of large apartment complexes and condominiums to try to determine the extent of the parking shortage.
Ledwith said it’s time to take another look at the issue, and noted that the streets where a parking shortage is an issue are in the area bounded by Farmington Avenue, Trout Brook Drive, Fern Street, and Prospect Avenue, where there is the highest concentration of older apartments.
“We have put a pause on the enforcement on Robin Road so folks don’t have to worry about getting ticketed every night while we tackle this problem, and it is a real problem,” Lediwth said. “There simply is not available parking for the folks that live in those apartment buildings.”
Committee member Mark Zydanowicz asked about enforcement of the parking ban on Robin Road prior to it being lifted during the pandemic, and Ledwith said it had not been enforced there previously either.
Public Works Director John Phillips added, however, that prior to the pandemic there were many fewer cars parked on the street, either due to better compliance, or also because of turnover and new residents not being aware of the ban, or being told by landlords that they could park on the street.
Law said she is grateful the town put a pause on enforcing the overnight parking ban on Robin Road and wants to stay where she lives but she and her roommates aren’t sure it will be feasible if on-street parking is not permitted. “Now we’re trying to make sure that living in West Hartford is okay for people who need to drive to work,” she said.
Li, the owner of one of the Robin Road apartment buildings, said there had not previously been any issues regarding people parking on the street.
“We’re open to working with the tenants, with the town. We want to make something happen,” Li said.
“We’ll come up with a solution, present it to the Council, and move forward in that fashion,” Ledwith said.
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