Here's a story we'd like not to hear again. A couple drives into the city to go out to dinner in Hartford's West End. They enjoy the dinner, leave the restaurant and discover that their car has been towed to the Berlin Turnpike in Newington, and that it will take $160 in cash to recover it.
This has been going on since late 2005. It's an unfortunate byproduct of the revival of the Farmington Avenue corridor. A bunch of excellent new restaurants have moved in, but they are drawing more customers than they have parking for. Unsuspecting customers leave their cars in private parking areas, and the cars are towed.
Though several property owners are having cars towed, most of the attention has been aimed at the largest lot, which surrounds West End Plaza. The building contains a Bank of America branch, a Dollar Store and a Kinko's (the parking area is usually referred to as "the Kinko's lot").
It is owned by Phoenix Realty Management of Danbury (which is not connected to the Hartford-based Phoenix insurance companies). Phoenix Realty president Mike Panek said his lot was beset by non-client parkers, and that he tried other measures before resorting to towing. He said he attempted to negotiate with two restaurant owners, to no avail.
The West End Civic Association, the Farmington Avenue Business District, the Farmington Avenue Alliance and the city's parking authority have all tried to resolve the situation, thus far without success.
It isn't easy, by any stretch. Mr. Panek is the property owner, has responsibilities to his clients and is not obligated to be the neighborhood's parking provider.
Yet it is in everyone's best interest to find a solution. If a plaza customer cannot leave the property to run another errand without being subject to towing, as is now the case, it can't be good for Mr. Panek's business. If people avoid the restaurants because of the parking problems, that imperils what is a most promising revival of the corridor.
Private parking operators have told residents the lot - with slightly more than 100 spaces - is too small to make a profit with an attendant, though perhaps it could be packaged with a larger lot or garage somewhere else. Or perhaps the lot could be controlled by automatic parking devices, in which parkers deposit cash for timed tickets. Perhaps there is some kind of park-and-ride option available from another lot. Mr. Panek could lessen the impact by contracting with a towing company based in Hartford.
City hall and the parking authority need to get more actively involved. Meanwhile, please park with caution.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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