LENOX — Summertime, and the parking is tougher, or so it seems. But in year four of an on-again, off-again seasonal enforcement drive, Town Hall and police officials are confident that residents and visitors have a better handle on parking restrictions in the downtown area.
The widely-publicized three-hour parking limit is in effect from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week, as indicated by posted signs on every block in the central business district. The new rules were approved by the Select Board in May 2015 and were test-driven last summer.
Additional blue signs have gone up recently at crosswalks directing motorists to municipal lots.
"We have plenty of parking in the center of town," Police Chief Stephen O'Brien said. In addition to on-street spaces, there are lots behind Berkshire Bank on Main Street, the northeast corner of the Housatonic and Church Street intersection, as well as behind Town Hall.
Town Planner Gwen Miller commissioned a study of parking inventory downtown and tallied 356 on-street and municipal lot spaces for the general public, as well as 486 slots posted by various businesses for customers.
"We found last year that neither on-street nor off-street public parking spaces ever reached 100 percent occupancy," she said. "There was always parking available someplace in the village center, be it lunch or dinner, weekend or weekday, holiday or no holiday, beautiful and sunny or cold and rainy."
"What most people find challenging is a parking space immediately in front of their destination," Miller declared. "But there is parking available in downtown Lenox if you are willing and able to enjoy a short stroll through the lovely village center."
As of July 1, parking violators may find tickets with $10 fines on their windshields as the Police Department's full-time summer traffic officer Matt Fenton begins making the rounds. His alternating schedule will include weekdays and weekends on a rotating basis through the end of August.
"We'll do exactly what we did last year," O'Brien said. Fenton has "a pretty fluid schedule, so he'll come in when we think we need him the most."
"He's very good at what he does," the chief pointed out. "There were very few complaints, if any, about his enforcement and his technique."
The parking rules are well-established, O'Brien said, "and they should be fairly obvious to everyone who parks in the center of town. This isn't hard. I think we have plenty of signage."
"Lenox has plenty of parking," Miller emphasized. "With new signs installed last summer and a parking map available on the town website (townoflenox.com) and via the Lenox Chamber of Commerce, it is only becoming easier for visitors, residents and employees of local businesses to take advantage of an existing resource."
The decision to resume the enforcement of parking rules during tourist season got off to a rocky start in 2013, when two-hour limits were suddenly enforced randomly with minimal advance notice, after decades of a hands-off approach.
Town officials and some business owners complained that parking had become scarce at times because a few employees were parking all day or evening, taking up prime spots in the historic district's compact shopping and dining area.
At least 324 tickets were issued that summer, though only 230 were paid. Some violators were peeved or even infuriated, and they were not shy about venting their frustrations at Town Hall.
One of Town Manager Christopher Ketchen's first decisions shortly after he began his tenure in April 2014 was to declare a hiatus so regulations could be reviewed and business owners, along with their customers, could offer suggestions.
Last summer, the parking limit was extended to three hours, but only warnings were issued from late June to late July. As Ketchen said, "the enforcement was very effective, since I was one of the 84 who was cited."
Two of the more unusual warnings handed out by enforcement officer Fenton were to drivers who double-parked on a one-way segment of Housatonic Street in the heart of the downtown shopping area, blocking the traffic flow.
Tickets with fines were handed out last August, resulting in 92 tickets issued. Of the total, 78 violators paid the $10 fines, said Town Collector Diana Kirby. Some drivers were cited for parking too far from the curb or for taking up two spots.
Nearly all parking violations in town carry $10 fines, except in a handicapped accessible spot without a displayed and valid tag — that costs $50.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
At a Glance
Enforcement of parking limits begins this Friday in downtown Lenox.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week
Limits: Three hours in central business district blocks where signs are posted
Availability: 356 free spaces on-street and in municipal lots; 486 designated by businesses for customers
Parking lots: Behind Berkshire Bank on Main Street, on the northeast corner of the Housatonic and Church street intersection, and behind Town Hall near the intersection of Main and Walker streets, and Old Stockbridge Road
Enforcement: Various days and hours, seven days a week, by a full-time Police Department traffic officer on a rotating schedule. Penalties: $10 fine for most parking violations; $50 in a handicapped-only spot without a displayed and valid tag