18 to 22 public parking spaces proposed for Point Judith neighborhood
NARRAGANSETT – At a much-anticipated town council workshop, the Town of Narragansett proposed new public parking in a Point Judith neighborhood to accommodate surfers, fishers and other water enthusiasts. The 18 to 22 proposed parking spaces are still pending state agency approval, and are intended for ocean recreationists utilizing Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC)-designated public ocean access points throughout the neighborhood, which includes Conant, Calef, Louise, Pilgrim and Nichols Avenues.
In the summer, a large group of surfers and other ocean enthusiasts petitioned the town council to address a parking issue in the Point Judith neighborhood, arguing that they were being unfairly ticketed for parking. The controversy stems from a parking restriction on both sides of Conant Avenue and Pilgrim Avenue, popular public access points to the shore in Point Judith. While the ordinance restricting parking in the area has been in place since 1976, according to users of the access points, it has not been enforced consistently until recently, when Narragansett Police began distributing $35 citations and tickets to those parked illegally along the roads after complaints came in from area homeowners regarding parked vehicles.
Also at the onset of the debate, Narragansett Police Chief Sean Corrigan stated that enforcement of the no-parking ordinance in the area was complaint-driven. According to users of the public right-of-way points, surfers and others have accessed the ocean at these areas for over 60 years with minimal resistance from nearby property owners, until now.
Area homeowners also attended council meetings and workshops throughout the spring and summer months, testifying that surfers had become a nuisance in the area, often being loud and changing into wetsuits in the street. Throughout the dialogue, many property owners, however, acknowledged the plight ocean enthusiasts were facing regarding the parking dilemma, and many who are seeking ocean access stated they wished to pursue a harmonious relationship with the neighborhood and its residents. Out of these sentiments, a desire for compromise of some kind formed, and the town began pursuing solutions that would satisfy all involved.
“This came to a head awhile ago, before I started here,” prefaced Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney, who was sworn into the position in September. “Both the people who live in the neighborhood and the folks in the recreational surfing community all have their concerns about this and we want to try to address it.”
There are 14 CRMC-designated public right-of-way access points to the shoreline in Narragansett: Conant Avenue, Pilgrim Avenue, Calef Avenue, South Ferry Road, Pettaquamscutt Avenue (Pettaquamscutt River), Conanicus Road (Pettaquamscutt River), Wandsworth Street Extension (Point Judith Pond), Foddering Farm Road Extension (Point Judith Pond), Knowlesway Extension (Point Judith Pond), Ocean Avenue, Hazard Avenue, Newton Avenue, Bass Rock Road and Black Point. Tierney said residents of the Point Judith neighborhood had been unjustly blamed for the issue.
“It isn’t resident driven,” he said. “Some people have come to me and said it’s resident-driven. It really isn’t. There are some resident complaints about parking, just like any other neighborhood, [but] this is more public safety-driven. School busses can’t make the corners when there’s too many cars parked there, fire trucks and rescue vehicles can’t fit through there. So we do want to try to come up with a solution.”
Then Tierney, referring to his law enforcement and transportation background (he was an a police officer in South Kingstown for 28 years and was the chief of operations for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority from 2014 to 2019), said a civilian-submitted plan to create 75 parking spaces in the area “would not work.”
“I have over 28 years of law enforcement experience and five-and-a-half years of transit experience, that’s not going to work,” he said. “That’s not an option and it’s not safe.”
Tierney also showed a cell phone video of a Narragansett fire truck driving in the area, stating the video showed that if traditional on-street parking was allowed, the fire engine and other emergency vehicles could not effectively navigate the roads.
The town did, however, propose 18 to 22 public, parallel parking spaces in the neighborhood to be spread out on various streets in close proximity to the ocean access points. The spots, according to Michael DeLuca, Narragansett Director of Community Development, Tierney, and some town council members, would be designed to be as non-invasive as possible and would not be created in front of existing homes or developments in the neighborhood nor propose parking on both sides of any street. Tierney stated some of the locations of the spots would also likely require Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and CRMC approval before work could begin, due to their proximity to wetlands. The town manager also said residents of the area would be consulted to see “if they had any reasonable objection to it.”
According to DeLuca, four to six public parking spaces had been proposed for Nichols Avenue, 10-12 spaces were proposed for Louise Avenue and eight spaces had been envisioned on the north end of Pilgrim Avenue. DeLuca said parking on Conant Avenue was not possible due to the road’s width. However, according to Corrigan and the town’s engineering department, Conant Avenue has an average width of 19 feet, while Calef Avenue averages a width of 16 feet, Louise Avenue measures at 18 feet and Pilgrim Avenue’s average width is 17 feet.
In addition to the town’s proposal, Tierney spoke to other forms of parking relief offered from the local community, including the Bon Vue Inn’s proposal to allow surfers to utilize a portion of its parking lot during the day free of charge and the nearby public Rose Nulman Park, located at 1460 Ocean Road, which boasts additional parking. Google Maps shows the park is located about 0.8 of a mile from the Conant Avenue public ocean access point.
Councilor Jesse Pugh, pointing to a lack of maps and images accompanying the discussion, said the visual materials should have been available for the long-scheduled public workshop.
“The thing that’s confusing right now is that this workshop has been about three or four months in the works and there’s basically nothing really different here than what we talked about in the summertime,” he said. “We have a map that you can’t even see.”
Pugh and fellow council member Patrick Murray met with DeLuca and Tierney to discuss the topic in October. Pugh stated the meeting outlined 32 possible parking spots along the listed streets and asked what happened to the other 10 spaces. Murray said a paper road running parallel to Pilgrim Avenue could also provide additional parking.
“We’d get another three spaces by going into that paper road that’s to the east [of Pilgrim Avenue],” he said.
Tierney said the proposal for parking by the town only took into account existing roadways.
“We did this without doing any modifications to the existing roadways or anything else,” he said. “We didn’t modify the rights of way, no modifications to the street or pavement. We went on the minimum that we have right now.”
Pugh took the opportunity to weigh in on the issue as a whole.
“The whole point of this workshop is not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, or who deserves to park in the neighborhood and who doesn’t,” he said. “It really is a safety issue. We’ve seen this come up time and time again. You can’t drive down these roads with emergency vehicles if anyone’s parked on the road. We know that people are going to park on the road, whether it’s legal or not. You’re going to have contractors, landscapers, surfers, fisherman, they will park there. It’s just the reality. They’ll do it and they’ll get a ticket.”
“The town is aware that it’s unsafe,” Pugh continued. “And it’s our responsibility to fix the issue. So instead of us saying ‘it’s illegal, you can’t park here,’ what we’re doing is trying to get the cars off the road. If you get them off the road, vehicles can get through. So when we’re talking about on-street parking, we’re really talking about off-street parking because it’s off the current street and in a safe area. What we’re proposing does it in the least invasive way – never on both sides of the road, never in front of someone’s existing house, either on town property or the paper road. What we’re really looking for is kind of a compromise because I think no parking isn’t a compromise and 80 spots isn’t a compromise. We’re looking to get something in the middle that will set a new infrastructure for this neighborhood that does allow people to park in the neighborhood without causing the safety issue we currently have.”
Town council president Matthew Mannix then recognized members of the public.
Paula Derry, who said she owns two lots on Pilgrim Avenue, asked where the funds would come from to clear the paper road Murray had suggested, noting it was overgrown, if it was selected for public parking. Murray answered “taxpayers.”
“So we think the taxpayers of the Town of Narragansett should cover the cost of creating a road so people can surf?” she asked.
Murray answered that the town in 2012 had approved a $17 million bond referendum for the improvement, replacement, construction, renovation, repair, reconstruction and/or restoration of public roadways. The councilor also stressed the issue concerned public safety.
“As councilors, we should do due diligence and provide a safe neighborhood,” he said.
Derry went on to state she believed it was unfair property owners in the area were being asked to compromise, and stated Murray’s “bias was clear” in supporting the town’s proposal for public parking in the area.
“I can speak for myself and say we looked at many, many places in Narragansett and we actually selected this area because it was off the beaten path and it was quiet and there wasn’t a lot of traffic and it was safe,” said Derry of the Point Judith neighborhood.
Derry concluded by stating that parking was available further away and within walking distance of the public access points, but surfers and other water recreationists refused to utilize the space and instead opted to park close to the shore.
Christine Morgan, a resident of Calef Avenue, said other local public access points to the shore, such as the town beach or Scarborough State Beach, charged for parking, and asked why the town would create a free parking area. Morgan further stated many of the public access points were “treacherous,” pointing to common steep jetties and near cliffs. There have been a number of deaths related to recreation along the Narragansett shoreline in recent years. Others also spoke out against the proposed parking spaces, while some in attendance voiced they did not have a chance to speak after the council president had ended public comment on the topic. The workshop began an hour before a scheduled town council meeting.
Town council president Matthew Mannix stated the CRMC access points guaranteed public access to the water, not public parking. Town council president pro-tem Jill Lawler agreed, stating she did not support the town’s proposal. Councilor Richard Lema said he would support whatever recommendation came from the town manager, Narragansett Fire Chief Scott Partington and Corrigan, noting the trio’s expertise in public safety and transit. Pugh and Murray, who worked in part with the town to craft the proposal for additional spaces, support increased parking in the neighborhood.
Since the meeting was in workshop form, no formal votes were taken. The council is expected to vote on the town’s proposal sometime in the winter.