Parking woes, solutions eyed for Milford Oval area

Kevin and Sally Stephens, owners of Union Street Grill, at the corner of Union Square and Union Street in Milford, above, say they’ve been trying for 16 years to keep parking spaces near their restaurant clear for customers.

MILFORD – Prosperity in Milford’s downtown area has a price, and the busy shops and restaurants mean it’s sometimes hard to find a place to park.

One evening last week town planners gathered with a small group of residents, property owners and business owners to talk about possible solutions.

The popularity of new places like Bar One and the Union Coffee Co. have been driving growth, said community development Director Lincoln Daley, and business owners and property owners have approached town officials about trying to find a solution.

Daley and assistant town planner Robin Lunn facilitated the meeting and invited the roughly 10 participants to revised some of their ideas about parking, talking about what he called myths: myths that people don’t want to walk, or that if you provide a lot of parking people will come to town.

The reality, Daley said, is that “parking is not a downtown attraction” and having safe, enjoyable pedestrian paths can make walking five minutes to a destination a pleasant experience.

Finally, there is the idea that parking should be equally available to everyone. The reality, he said, is customers, clients and shoppers should have priority.

Kevin Stephens agrees completely.

The owner of the Union Street Grill said he has been applying that philosophy for 16 years, ever since the town got rid of its parking meters, time restrictions and overnight winter parking ban. Stephens’ tenants and employees now park in more remote places the restaurant owners have set up, he said, but they’ve had mixed results trying to get other tenants to cooperate.

Stephens and his wife, Sally, explained they have been able to convince some of the people who live upstairs that their long-term use of parking spaces in front of his restaurant not only hurts the business, it hurts the waitstaff, cooks and other employees because lack of parking drives customers away.

But it’s not just tenants.

“When business owners take up parking spaces on the Oval, it’s ridiculous,” Stephens said.

The Verizon shop around the corner has the same problem, he said, because “for three or four days at a time there are eight to 10 cars parked there.”

Daley said “the common theme I hear is that” some people are abusing the free available parking because they have a sense of entitlement, which brought him to another parking myth, that “everyone is entitled to free parking.” The reality is that everything has a cost, he explained.

Daley and Lunn floated the idea of a public-private partnership, with downtown churches or the TD Bank, for example, using a decal system authorized by the town.

As always, enforcement could be a problem, but adding those underutilized parking areas could relieve pressure on the existing 230 spots of public parking downtown they said.

Daley noted Bales and Jacques schools’ parking is available to the public on weekends, and Aaron Kaplan, of A&D Computer, said town hall employees should be made to park away from the Oval.

Chris Labonte, who’s running for selectman, said downtown parking will only get worse after One Nashua Street, a long-empty building on the corner of South and Nashua streets, is renovated and open for business.

Labonte’s father, Robert, tried to put things into perspective.

“I’ve been here 41 years, and we had a parking problem 41 years ago,” he said.

About 10 people came to the meeting, and Town Administrator Mark Bender told those in attendance it will not be the last one.

“We’ll find some solution,” he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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