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Caution warranted in addressing parking

Published November 24. 2013 4:00AM

The city must make sure that any plan to address the parking requirements of the Electric Boat offices in New London is part of a comprehensive plan to meet overall municipal parking needs. A parking solution must also complement future development in the Fort Trumbull area.

Tammy Daugherty, director of economic development, says that is exactly the approach the city is taking. She called discussions of building a parking garage in the vicinity preliminary.

That makes us feel a bit better about the recent discussion of garage construction that came up during a Renaissance City Development Association meeting, the quasi-public development group and successor to the New London Development Corp.

Parking garages can help economic development in urban settings, providing parking in a condensed location. They can also be very ugly, block views and diminish the value of property - in other words, more detriment than asset.

Given the troubled history of the Fort Trumbull redevelopment efforts and desperation to get something going there, concern that the city might build the wrong kind of garage is not unwarranted.

All options, it appears, remain in play. EB has 3,000 employees working at its New London offices, substantially more than prior owner Pfizer Inc. There are not enough spaces in the parking garage on the property and expansion has apparently been judged as impractical. EB workers can park in the large lots at its Groton plant and take a shuttle to New London, but hundreds choose to use on-street parking along city streets in New London, not an ideal solution.

A parking facility built adjacent to the EB offices might address the immediate parking needs, but do nothing to help future development in the adjacent Fort Trumbull section. But construction of a garage in or closer to Fort Trumbull is problematic given that there are no clear development plans, making it difficult to come up with a garage concept.

And how is it paid for? Private development perhaps - with the inclusion of first-floor retail outlets that cater to the EB workers and provide revenue - or a private-public undertaking?

So many factors are in play.

Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, retrofitting a building on nearby Howard Street, is also interested in parking in that section.

Finding a way to tie Fort Trumbull to the downtown waterfront district - most likely with a pedestrian bridge, should be a priority, which would also influence the dynamics of parking strategy.

The proposed development of rental and condo townhouses remains in legal limbo. Discussions continue over financing for the project and concerning the development contract requirements. How that plays out is another X-factor.

Ms. Daugherty notes that city cannot look at the large influx of EB employers into the city as just a parking challenge, but an economic development opportunity. She wants to convince more of those workers to live in the city.

The city has wisely ruled out expansive parking lots, such as serve EB employees in Groton. Land is too limited and valuable in New London to use it that way.

Parking will also be an issue as plans move forward for development of the National Coast Guard Museum adjacent to the ferry terminal and train station along Water Street. And the city needs to re-examine how its parking strategies can better support the goal of continued downtown revitalization.

Concern about adequate parking is a good problem to have. It signals vitality and growth. If EB had not filled the former Pfizer offices, if they stood vacant, there would be no parking problem in the area. That's hardly the solution anyone would want.

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