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January 7, 2021

Bronin, Hartford city council at odds over downtown parking lot fee hikes

HBJ Photo | Joe Cooper A surface parking lot in downtown Hartford, 10 Ford St., operated by LAZ Parking.

Hartford city councilors on Wednesday advanced a measure that would impose major fee hikes on downtown parking lot operators, despite fervent opposition from major center-city investors, and Mayor Luke Bronin, who called the policy "misguided."

Members of a city council subcommittee voted 6-0 -- with Councilor Shirly Surgeon abstaining -- to put the measure on the full council's Jan. 25 meeting agenda with a favorable recommendation for passage. But city councilors added the caveat that the higher fees will not kick in until Jan. 1, 2022, rather than immediately.

The proposed measure -- which updates a 2002 ordinance --would increase the biennial permit fees the city charges downtown parking-lot operators from a maximum of $1,000 per parking lot to as much as $28,900 or more, depending on the number of spaces in a particular lot.

If passed, the updated ordinance would create 13 different permit fee structures based on lot size. For example, a lot with 16 to 30 motor vehicles would have to pay a biennial permit fee of $2,000, up from $500 today. Lots with more than 250 vehicles would have to pay $28,900 plus an additional $2,500 for every additional 20 vehicles (under that scheme a lot with 305 vehicles would have to pay a $36,400 biennial fee).

Bronin, who had not previously commented on the measure, said in a Thursday morning statement to HBJ that he would not favor the proposal as written.

"In its current form, I think this proposal is misguided, particularly at this moment, and I'll be working with council in the coming weeks to address a number of concerns before it’s considered by the full council," Bronin said. "Right now, we should be doing everything we can to encourage and incentivize residents, visitors, workers, and businesses alike to come to downtown Hartford, and raising the costs -- even at the margins -- just doesn't make sense to me.  In addition, when we're trying hard to get structured parking built in order to facilitate the significant amount of residential and mixed-use development already planned on current surface parking lots -- for example, around the baseball park -- increasing the cost of building and operating structured parking garages would not be helpful."

A collection of Hartford investors and business advocates spoke out against the measure Wednesday saying the fees would be too high, increase the cost of parking downtown and be bad for businesses. 

LAZ Parking CEO and major downtown investor Alan Lazowski said  the measure would result in significant fee raises for parking lot owners, especially amid a reduction of office commuters due to COVID-19.

"There are no cars and people parking in those lots," LAZ Parking CEO and major downtown investor Alan Lazowski said, pointing out the reduction of office commuters due to COVID-19. "You're taking a $1,000 permit fee, and raising it by 1,500%, and 2,000% in some cases, and this is certainly not the time to do it."

In an email sent to HBJ Thursday, Michael Seidenfeld, COO of Downtown landlord Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC, added that 40 members of the Hartford business community, including many small retail shop owners, property owners and local businesses, currently oppose the proposal. 

During a presentation during Wednesday’s meeting, Norman Garrick, a UConn civil engineering professor who has researched parking in Hartford for a decade said cities like Cambridge, Mass., charge much more for parking, and set policies that encourage development of mixed-use properties, rather than parking. 

"Surface parking is taxed at a much lower rate than commercial buildings [in Hartford], and what we see in a place like Cambridge is exactly the opposite," Garrick said. "I see this legislation as part of correcting these issues."

Seidenfeld, in a Thursday email, disputed Garrick's findings, saying commercial buildings and surface parking lots are taxed at the same rate.

Benjamin Schlossberg, a managing member of Shelbourne, said that his company and other developers also want more development downtown, but it's not financially feasible right now.

"You could not make a development in the city work right now, we are struggling to develop in the city," Schlossberg said. "We'd love to convert parking lots to multi-family [homes], that would be wonderful. It just doesn't work right now."

Others, like Michael Freimuth, executive director of the quasi-public Capital Region Development Authority, have also said ground-up development downtown isn't doable without major government subsidies due to the city’s high property tax rate, cost of construction and other factors including the lack of demand for new office and retail space.

CRDA, a quasi-public agency, has invested more than $100 million of bonded state taxpayer money in recent yhelp finance construction of nearly 2,000 apartment units downtown.

Hartford City Councilor originally planned to vote on the measure on Dec. 14, but sent it back to committee for discussion after parking lot operators and other business owners spoke out against it. Councilors are scheduled to revisit the ordinance update on Jan. 25.

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January 8, 2021

Thank God,the City Council will consider this folly
and hopefully rip it up.Who has proposed this idiocy?
Let the HBJ do some investigative reporting.Not
just be as a tinkling bell.

January 8, 2021

This is just one of many areas where Bronin is abusing the strong mayor charter. He employs the techniques of the Trump administration by appointing himself to positions, and creating positions/appointing people to positions that SHOULD be elected. City council typically acts like a group of nodding bobbleheads, agreeing to most of the Bronins' proposals.
He has pretty much let it be known that he is the final supervisor of HPD and allows grievous ethics breaches by HPD to pass with minimal accountability. Something is wrong here.
The strong mayor charter left too many doors open for abuse of the system and personal benefit to city leadership . Because Bronin is blind to conflict of interest issues, the city has had two mayors. They have used personal relationships to permit developers and Real Estate investors from out of state to uproot coty residents and dramatically change our communities.
I have been told the Bronins have planned to change residences in the west end to offices. I dont know if it is true because the Bronins are not transparent.
The strong mayor charter has continued to allow the mayor (and potentially their spouse/partner to make unilateral,independent decisions without consulting the citizenry.
The accolades Bronin received from Democrats are just part of the political machine. We need to fight the current charter that paves the way for leaders to abuse and corrupt the office.
The citizenry deserve transparency and accountability.

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