WESTERLY — To Tad Flynn the reason for imposing a parking ban on Watch Hill Road is painfully clear.
“This is about public safety. I know a little something because my wife was killed on Thanksgiving Day,” Flynn said.
His wife, Amy Mazzola Flynn, was fatally struck on Nov. 24, 2011, while out for a post-dinner walk on the road with the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, who suffered a broken leg.
Speaking Monday to the Town Council, Flynn said his family had one answer when asked what people could do to help after his wife’s sudden and tragic death. “All we care about is making sure the roads of Watch Hill are so safe that no mother ever has to worry” that a loved one could be lost, he said.
The council tabled action on a proposed ordinance that would establish the no-parking zone after learning that the town lacks jurisdiction. The road falls under state control. Police Chief Edward St. Clair said he had asked the state Traffic Commission to consider establishing the parking ban; it would apply to Watch Hill Road from Avondale Road’s southern intersection with the road to the Watch Hill Road-Westerly Road intersection.
Despite determining that it could not act on the proposed parking policy, the Town Council, and some among an audience of 30 in attendance for the issue, discussed the matter at length. The wide-ranging dialogue touched on traffic safety in Watch Hill but also on what some said is a divide between Watch Hill and the rest of the community.
Councilor Patricia Douglas said she respected and appreciated the Flynn family’s loss but added she was disturbed to read comments in an Aug. 19 story in The Westerly Sun linking the proposed parking ban to public safety and the deaths of Mazzola Flynn and Nelson Tavares, a Pawcatuck resident who was struck and killed by a motor vehicle as he worked in a yard about 6 feet from the roadway near 215 Watch Hill Road on July 1, 2010. Tavares, a landscaper was killed while he was working in a customer’s yard at 1:45 in the afternoon.
There did not appear to be a suggestion in the police reports at the time of those accidents that parked vehicles were a factor.
Douglas called on the Watch Hill residents behind the parking ban proposal to “be honest” and “put all of your cards on the table.”
“If you don’t like parking then say so,” she said.
In the Aug. 19 news story, Charles “Sandy” Whitman III, Watch Hill Fire District moderator, said people started parking on the road this summer, apparently after observing district residents parked on the road for the district’s annual meeting on July 12.
Douglas said, “I think it’s despicable that a group of Watch Hill people would use two tragic events to try to get no parking on Watch Hill Road. Neither one of those accidents had anything to do with parking, tourism, or congestion, they were tragic events.”
Councilor Jack Carson said he favored a parking ban on the road but said the matter pointed to the need for the town to address the growing popularity of Watch Hill as a destination and the lack of parking in the village. He said more and more people are drawn to the area, lured by attention paid to the Ocean House, and Taylor Swift’s residency.
“There was a parking problem 20 years ago in the village and it’s only become exacerbated recently,” Carson said.
Supporters of the ban said parking on the road forces pedestrians, joggers, and bicyclists to enter the travel portion of the road. They also said small children, getting out of parked cars, are at risk.
Carson and other councilors urged reconsideration of a trolley or other means to bring people to Watch Hill. A similar effort, tried most recently in 2011, was not given enough time to catch on, he said.
Council President Diana Serra said the trolley idea deserved another try and observed that in 2011 it was not geared toward beach goers.
“That’s where the problem is, people want to go the beach and there’s no space in the parking lot,” Serra said.
Councilor Caswell Cooke Jr. said that the trolley’s funding in 2011 originated with the Westerly-Pawcatuck Joint Development Task Force, which is defunct. A new effort would require financial backing from the town, he said.
“It has to be paid for by the town if it’s going to work. We have to step back and say, we generate X amount of million dollars, are we willing to spend $100,000 of it to help our town?” Cooke said.
Lisa Konicki, executive director of the Greater Westerly-Pawcatuck Area Chamber of Commerce, said the 2011 Shop and Dine Trolley was intended to help downtown Westerly by bringing in visitors from Watch Hill and Misquamicut. The trolley was initiated by Keepspace Westerly and managed by the chamber, Konicki said.
Increasingly, Douglas said, residents of Watch Hill and other parts of town are demanding no parking zones on public roads that the town pays to maintain and plow.
Judith Lentz, a Turtleback Road resident, directed her comments to Douglas, and asked for more understanding and appreciation, saying Watch Hill residents contribute 40 percent of the town’s taxes, have very few children in the town’s schools, and maintain their own fire department.
“You should like us much more than you seem to,” she said.
Bob Brockman, former Watch Hill Fire District moderator, noted that the district had recently acquired a parking lot on Larkin Road and plans to preserve it for public parking. He also said the district maintains a lot on Bay Street, adjacent to the Watch Hill Yacht Club, and does not charge a fee for parking there. The lot is open to the public after 4 p.m., he said.
“The fire district is very sympathetic to this problem and we are doing things about it and we don’t necessarily like being the whipping boy,” Brockman said.
Serra urged all residents to unify. “Westerly is a jewel because of every part of Westerly. I don’t want to compete,” she said.
Cooke asked town residents to remember that each of its villages is part of the greater municipality.
“It’s one town,” Cooke said.
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