LENOX -- Following a two-month experiment in parking-regulation enforcement, the jury is out on whether the town will sock tourists with $10 fines again next summer for violating two-hour daytime limits downtown.
"Some just shrugged and handed over their 10-dollar bills quietly, other visitors insisted that they would never return to town," said Town Clerk Jenifer Picard, who's also the parking clerk, treasurer and assistant tax collector.
According to Select Board Chairman David Roche, the enforcement achieved its goal of ensuring ample parking for tourists and helping local businesses.
"In that respect, it was successful," he maintained, but in others, "definitely not."
"It certainly alienated some of the tourists, as we expected, but not to the extent that it did," he added. "There was a lot of pushback," although some merchants cited customers who were pleased that it was easier to find spaces.
Between early July and the end of Labor Day weekend, 324 tickets were issued, mostly for exceeding the two-hour limit in effect between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., and as of Friday, 230 had been paid, Picard said. Violators have 30 days to pay. Repeat offenders with three or more unpaid tickets are reported to the state Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The parking limit enforcement was first advocated by Selectman Kenneth Fowler, owner of the Shear Design hair salon, because some business owners and employees were tying up prime downtown spaces all day, making it difficult for customers to park. Letters to proprietors went out at the beginning of the season urging them to use the town's six all-day lots.
"A lot of people became vehemently opposed to receiving a parking violation notice, and we were not surprised by the reaction," said Police Chief Stephen O'Brien. Some voiced their objections to him, others to patrol officers or to Picard and her colleagues.
"We stirred up a hornet's nest," he declared, "and we fielded a lot of complaints, totally what we expected to happen."
O'Brien estimated that his department heard three or four angry complaints a week, on average. Cameron Sibley, 17, a Police Explorer and special officer, patrolled the downtown streets on two randomly selected days of the week.
"He did exactly what he was asked to do, he did it very well, professionally, and he should be commended," O'Brien emphasized. "He took some relatively abrasive comments and let them roll off his back."
Despite the Select Board's enforcement decision, the chief said he still saw some owners and employees parking very close to their businesses but avoiding tickets by moving their vehicles every two hours.
As for reinstating the enforcement next summer, O'Brien said that's up to the Selectmen -- "we're prepared to do it again if that's what they want us to do."
Complaints that reached O'Brien focused on the two-hour restriction, which was deemed too short. and inadequate posting of the rules.
He repeated another common objection -- "I've just spent a lot of money in your stores, and this is how you treat me."
Roche, the Select Board chairman, called for a reassessment, including support from the retailers and restaurateurs -- "our goal was, like Great Barrington and Pittsfield, to impose time limits so the businesses could have a turnover of customers."
He said only a few local residents complained.
By next summer, if there's a decision to resume ticketing, Roche stressed the need for adequate signage, more publicity about the six all-day parking areas, and a review of how much extra time and workload the enforcement imposes on Town Hall employees.
"Did we make mistakes?" he asked. "Yeah, we did, so we'd have to correct those if we were going to move forward next year, but we'll take the winter to talk it over."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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On Twitter: @BE_cfanto