Shelton aims to highlight existing downtown parking

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — City officials and local developers are working to alleviate concerns about the availability of downtown parking. And that begins, they say, with letting people know what already exists.

First and foremost is improving the lighting and access for those coming and going from their vehicles at what is known as the Conti lot, a municipal parking area next to the Conti building leased by the city.

Don Stanziale, Jr., owner of Midland Development & Contracting and developer of Cedar Village at Carroll’s, among other area projects, said that lighting has already started to be installed on utility poles located along Howe Avenue and facing the lot.

“We have now reached a point where we simply can’t make do with what we have,” said Mat Calandro, owner of Caloroso Eatery & Bar, a Center Street staple since 2012.

“The city and private sector have made amazing progress in downtown Shelton’s revitalization in recent years,” he added. “Centralized municipal parking, walkable streets, blight enforcement, and resident and patron safety must move to the top of our priorities today keep things moving in the right direction.”

Restaurants have become a major part of the downtown community, and such establishments conduct the bulk of their business between 4 and 11 p.m., he said.

“This alone puts major stress on the parking infrastructure available,” Calandro said. “Couple that with the fact that there is, collectively, permitted occupancy of more than 1,000 people in downtown restaurants alone and there is less than 100 private spaces available in the area.”

Furthermore, he said the restaurant industry is in a very precarious situation right now with labor shortages and rising costs across the board. The current lower-margin environment has put a lot of stress on the need for more volume for restaurateurs to make a living, he said.

“Growth is a great problem to have, and it has become very obvious to the community and patrons that improvements must be made,” Calandro said. “I know many of the downtown merchants are high-character, devoted and passionate people. We have put everything we have into our businesses and the parking issue is unquestionably an issue for our patrons.”

Calandro said he remained optimistic that the city would find the needed solutions to continue the downtown momentum.

Hartin Ballabani, owner of Tacomida and the newly opened Chaplin, located in Angelo Melisi’s Bridge Street Commons II at the corner of Howe Avenue and Center Street said more parking would be idea.

“But,” he added, “I think there is an opportunity, with some lighting and sidewalk work, to make it easier to walk to these areas. It’s hard to tell someone to park a block over and walk when you have to go over broken concrete in the dark.”

Stanziale also said that the city would be upgrading a stairway that goes from the Conti lot up to Howe Avenue. At present, the stairs are metal and rusted, and access from those stairs to Howe Avenue is blocked by a metal fence.

According to Stanziale, Mayor Mark Lauretti has stated he will have the stairs repaired and access created to allow those people who park in the lot access to Howe Avenue without walking around on the sidewalk.

Once complete, Stanziale said a larger sign will be installed to show people the location of the municipal lot.

The city has also reached an agreement with the gas company to lease space on the Eversource property, located across the street from Cedar Village at Carroll’s. Those additional 70 spaces would put the available parking spaces downtown at about 500, according to city officials.

Stanziale said that the parking lot would be finished within the next eight months.

This is needed, he says, as the former Chromium Process site, long used for downtown parking, may soon be home to new development.

Stanziale agreed that parking is needed downtown as new developments come online or are planned, meaning more apartments. He said that he remains in contact with Lauretti about a parking garage, and that is a possibility, but in the meantime, bringing better visibility to parking that exists is key.

Ballabani said he is pleased that businesses, developers and city officials are accepting that a problem exists and working together to find solutions.

“Everyone is being heard,” he said.

As Ballabani opens Chaplin, he admits there was never any apprehension on his part about opening a second restaurant, no matter the issues with parking.

“We were never scared,” he said. “There are plenty of others like me who agree that this downtown is the place to be. Sure, more parking would be ideal, but I think putting an effort into things like lighting, sidewalks repairs, simple fixes would be a big help.”