WALLINGFORD — After the town finished paving two new parking lots at Pat Wall Field earlier this year, the lot entrances were closed off with barriers and chains, causing some to wonder why the lots couldn’t be used.
The town blocked access to discourage the public from using the baseball field during the winter months and possibly causing damage, said Steve Palermo, Public Works Department foreman.
Beginning last year, Public Works and the Parks and Recreation Department decided to limit access to certain parks and athletic fields in town during the winter months in order to preserve the fields and prevent people from dumping trash in the parks.
“We just put some money into that field and the parking improvements, and it's not public parking, so that’s why we blocked it off,” Palermo said about the parking lots at Pat Wall Field. “We don’t want any pickup teams or leagues using that field during the winter.”
Palermo said the lot will be reopened to the public in the spring.
“We want the public to get out and use our parks, but understand that some of the parks have to have restricted access,” Palermo said. “We don't do it to be mean or anything. We do it to preserve our fields and curtail illegal dumping.”
But some nearby residents who live along South Elm Street across from the field said the closure inconveniences them because guests would normally park in the lots whenever their driveways filled up.
“I don’t have guests over because there’s nowhere for them to go,” said South Elm Street resident Althea Star.
Star said the street is “not conducive to on-street parking” because it’s narrow and drivers often “fly through” at speeds higher than the 30 mph speed limit.
With the lots across from her house now closed, Star has to tell guests to park along the street and “hope their car doesn’t get hit.” Star said her car was sideswiped earlier this year while it was parked on the street outside her house.
“There is a fear factor to coming here,” Star said, referring to the fear that your car may get hit if parked along the street.
“It’s really annoying for people,” said David Parent, also a resident of South Elm Street. “We’re stuck here, we don’t have any on-street parking. I wish they would open it up.”
Parent said he understands the town's reasons for keeping it closed during the off-season, “but on the other hand, it was our neighborhood amenity and we haven’t been able to have a big family gathering because there’s no place to park.”
Parent called the closure a “petty inconvenience.”
Jaime Hine, another resident on the street, also believes the town should keep the lot open year round and said he heard objections to the closure from many of his neighbors when he ran for Town Council earlier this year.
“I don't see a reason to close that parking lot down,” Hine said. “That doesn't really make a lot of sense to me.”
“The availability of these parking lots is a staple of this neighborhood,” Star said. “This decision to cordon off these parking lots during the off-season is clearly a decision made by someone who does not have to deal with the day-to-day consequences of this decision.”
Palermo said he has received calls from residents on the street who inquired why the lots were closed. A barrier reading, “Keep Out,” blocks access at each lot entrance.
Star and Parent both believe the public should be allowed to use the finished lots because the project was publicly funded.
“We don’t have the right to use it, but we have the right to pay for it. That’s quite odd,” Star said.
Palermo said the parking lot isn’t intended for public use by nearby residents.
“It’s not a public parking lot, it’s a parking lot for that athletic field,” he said.
The new parking lots were created in response to complaints about a shortage of parking during baseball games.
The new parking lots provide a total of 83 spaces. There are 40 spaces at the north end of the field behind home plate and 43 at the south end of the field along the first base line, according to project plans.
Public Works and the Department of Parks and Recreation decided last year to restrict access to several parks in town as the town dealt with a rise in illegal dumping in parks. Other parks with restricted access are Pragemann, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lufbery, Harrison, and Woodhouse fields number 1 and 2.
“We have a huge problem in town with people dumping," Palermo said last December. People were discarding household items in the parks and filling trash barrels with kitchen bags of trash, Palermo said last year.
The problem improved after the town limited access to parks, according to Palermo.
“It has backed off quite a bit,” Palermo said.