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Tempest on West Street: employees hog parking

WESTERLY — A former town councilor and one of his neighbors say that after three years they are fed up with a struggle to find a place for friends and other visitors to park on West Street.

The Town Council acknowledged the problem on Monday but said it is a byproduct of a good situation — a successful business that has grown from 15 employees to more than 100. The council agreed to let the business assign its workers parking spaces in lots it rents in the neighborhood and to revisit the matter in two weeks.

William Moscaritolo, a town councilor from 1978 to 1980, and his neighbor, Louis Gaccione, returned to speak to the council Monday, saying the only way things will change is if the council adopts an ordinance limiting parking for six parking spaces on the west side of West Street to two hours. The two neighbors have been talking, most recently, to the council about parking on the street since Nov. 25, but said they have spoken with town officials about the problem since 2011.

Council President Diana Serra said that RCM, an information technology and engineering firm that leases space at 116 High St., informed the town that it would assign parking spaces in lots it rents at the Westerly Elks Lodge on Dixon Street and Immaculate Conception Church on High Street.

“If they need more spaces they’ll have to rent more spaces,” Serra said, when the discussion seemed to indicate that the company might still have to use spaces on West Street in addition to its rented parking.

Moscaritolo and Gaccione said RCM workers and others who work in the building, at the corner of High and Dixon streets, routinely park on both sides of West Street, making it impossible for visitors to find a parking spot. They also said the volume of parked cars, on both sides of the street, effectively changes the road into a one way street and presents problems for emergency vehicles.

Both men said the problem lies with the owners of 116 High St. According to town records, 116 High St. is owned by Dixon St. Realty LLC., a holding company. The records indicate that Brian McCuin of Sorensen & McCuin Contractors LLC is a contact in the holding company.

Moscaritolo and Gaccione referred to Sorensen & McCuin Contractors LLC as the owners of the building and said the company is violating the town’s zoning ordinance by failing to provide adequate parking for its building, the former Immaculate Conception School. The firm’s principals are Kenneth Sorensen, a member of the Planning Board, and McCuin, a former town councilor.

Solicitor John Stockwell Payne said he had seen no evidence of illegalities and asked a few times for the men to stop referring to McCuin by name because he was not present to defend himself. Town Manager Michelle Buck, a former solicitor, said she was not immediately aware of the applicable zoning regulations, but said it was not accurate to say the regulations were not being followed.

Tenants in the building include RCM, Sorensen & McCuin Contractors LLC, and a mental health counseling service. The town’s zoning law establishes the following off-street parking requirements: one car space for every 250 square feet of gross floor office space; and 6.5 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area up to 10,000 square feet; 4.75 parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of gross floor area greater than 10,000 square feet for service and retail businesses.

The parking requirements apply to any structure or use, erected or developed after May 15, 2000. Sorensen & McCuin Contractors bought the building in 1997 and later transferred ownership to Dixon Street Realty, but it was unclear at press time when the current use of the building was developed and whether the May 15, 2000, regulations apply to it.

Gaccione accused the council of protecting McCuin at his expense, a charge that drew strong retorts from Serra and Councilor Patricia Douglas. “I don’t play favorites,” Serra said. Douglas said she had frequently argued with McCuin while he was a councilor and she was a member of the public.

Chief of Police Edward St. Clair said he recommended establishing the two-hour parking limit as a means to “give the residents some relief.” Rather than establish the limit for the whole street, St. Clair said he believed imposing the limit to the six spaces on the east side of the street balances the mixed needs of commercial and residential interests on the street.

St. Clair agreed with Gaccione that the department would be unable to enforce a requirement that workers park in parking lots rather than on the street.

Serra said she was seeking a solution that would help the entire neighborhood instead of simply pushing the workers out onto other nearby streets.

Councilor Jack Carson said Sorensen and McCuin had “made a good faith effort” to be good neighbors by renting parking spaces at the club and the church.

Councilor Christopher Duhamel asked for time to see if the assigned parking plan worked. “This business is important to Westerly,” he said. “Westerly needs the tax dollars and good jobs. I’ve got to believe there’s a compromise here that can help the neighborhood and help keep jobs in Westerly.”

Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. questioned why the business would care if a parking limit was imposed if it was committed to having its workers park in the parking lots.

“It doesn’t matter because they’ve already said they’re not going to park there. So if they’re not going to park there, then the owners of that company won’t care if we put the two-hour limit,” Cooke said.

Cooke also said he did not want to “whitewash” Gaccione and Moscaritolo into thinking that the council was taking care of the problem if the company would continue to park on the street. Douglas seized on that phrase, accusing Cooke of turning Gaccione and Moscaritolo’s plight into a “political football.”

Some of the councilors referred repeatedly to a firm called RCW. No such business exists in Westerly.

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