Westbrook’s new downtown parking rules could soon take a bite from the paychecks of some imprudent parkers, but the business community is happy to see the changes – even if some employees have to walk a little farther to their cars.

“It hasn’t been a huge problem. It’s just crossing the street now,” said Dawn Christy, who works at Business Interiors, an office furniture store housed in the Edwards Block. She used to park next to the building, but now parks in the municipal lot behind CVS.

Westbrook began looking at solving downtown parking issues in 2005 with a goal to create a plan that would make life easier for customers looking to come into the city and patronize the local businesses. The city recently put up signs denoting areas in municipal lots limiting parking to two hours, one hour or 15 minutes. The parking limits are in effect Monday through Saturday.

Adam Farrington, the new dual-role animal control and parking officer, has been handing out warnings to drivers who haven’t complied. About 30 percent of his job is dedicated to parking enforcement, he said.

As of Wednesday, Farrington said, he will start giving out tickets to cars posing safety hazards, such as ones parked in front of fire hydrants and in handicapped spots. He said soon he will give tickets to vehicles parked beyond the posted time limits, but will have a better idea when that enforcement will begin after some changes are made at a parking committee meeting, to be held on Friday.

Still, the warnings aren’t to be completely ignored.

“If I start seeing the same registration number over and over again, then they’re going to get a ticket,” he said.

In addition to leaving warnings, Farrington has been passing on citizen feedback to the city, and some changes are expected to be made. One concern has been that the limited-parking signs are placed too high.

“I’m going to go out there and check (the signs) as soon as I get someone to relieve me for a second,” Coleen Candelmo, manager at Family Dollar, said after learning about the plan, though the signs had been up for weeks.

Farrington said the signs had to go up high to avoid defacement by local youths, but people are definitely becoming aware of the parking limits. When he began chalking tires earlier this month, he was handing out 50 or so warnings each day.

“At the beginning, it was a nightmare,” he said.

On Nov. 15 he didn’t hand out any. He said on average he hands out two warnings per day in each lot.

“It was more effective than tear gas,” Farrington, who is also a staff sergeant in the 133rd Engineering Battalion, said of the first day out chalking tires.

Westbrook Police Chief Bill Baker said numbers dropping like that means the community is ready for real tickets – with real fines – to be placed under the windshield wipers of vehicles overstaying their visit.

The fee for exceeding posted time limits is $20, or $15 if paid within 10 days.

“If you just follow the signs, you’re going to be fine,” said Farrington.

Ken Atkinson, owner of Westbrook Picture Frame and Fine Arts Gallery in the Edwards Block, said the parking plan has helped – “You needed it, because you couldn’t get customers in here,” he said – but he’d like to see the lot next to his building go from one-hour parking to two-hour, and for Saturdays to be exempt from the parking limits as Sundays are.

“One hour is just not enough for retail businesses and eateries,” Atkinson said.

Stacey Fournier, a project manager at Business Interiors, had Atkinson’s suggestion as well.

“When we have client meetings, they are usually here for a couple of hours,” she said. Though she joked that she will still complain about the cold walk from the other side of Main street, she thinks the parking plan is good for the company’s customers.

Farrington has fielded comments about other parking areas as well, including the Church Street lot, where the all-day parking spots in the center are packed early in the morning and the two-hour slots are often vacant throughout the day.

The implementation of the parking plan doesn’t come without more complex problems. Farrington has had conversations with the city about the possibility of changing the diagonal parking in front of the Dana Warp Mill to horizontal parking in order to, in part, take care of issues with snow plowing caused by the tight quarters. But that would significantly reduce the amount of parking in an area already lacking.

“We thought about renting space (in the mill), but we didn’t because there was no parking,” said Amy Lewellen, owner of Cornerstone Chiropractic and Rehabilitation on Main Street. “I think they need to build a parking garage for the mill,” she said.

The city built a parking garage at One Riverfront Plaza, but is leasing it and there is no public access. Farrington said it is his understanding that there is a full floor of about 80 spaces that is not being filled, and that some citizens are miffed that the garage isn’t public.

The city has ideas to build a second parking garage, possibly in the municipal lot behind CVS, but that depends on the growth of businesses in the city. The Westbrook Development Collaborative has the idea in its sights as one of the long-term goals of downtown development. Erik Carson, the city’s economic and community development director, has noted that some businesses can’t significantly expand until another parking garage is built, but the parking garage can’t be built until there are significant business expansions.

The limited parking program is part of Phase 1 of the parking plan. Phase 2 could include metered marking, but that depends on the success or failure of the signed parking.

Staff writer Leslie Bridgers also contributed to this report.

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