The town should start thinking more carefully about how it spends money on commuter parking facilities, because it’s unclear in the aftermath of the COVID-19 public health emergency how commuting will change for residents who work in New York City, Selectman Nick Williams said Tuesday.
While voicing support for a contract extension to repave damaged sections of the Talmadge Hill Train Station lot, Williams asked fellow members of the the Board of Selectmen how confident they are that New Canaan will “have the same level of commuters in three, four, five years as we had three months ago?”
“I’m not sure,” Williams said during a regular Board meeting, held via videoconference.
He added, “I’ve got to believe that—I don’t want to use the word ‘sea change’—but I think there is goin to be a big change in the way people do business in New York City. We have learned how to work from home, by necessity. I just think we should think long and hard about the spend we make going forward on commuter lots. I am commuter. I like to do our lots, because I don’t want to go into a parking lot that’s shabby and in disrepair. But I’ve got to tell you, I am not sure to what level my law firm is going to have the same number of people going trucking into the city every day on a commuter train.”
The comments came as the Board voted 3-0 to approve a $122,000 contract extension with Norwalk-based FGB Construction to mill and repave two lots east of the railroad tracks at Talmadge Hill—a project originally slated for August that public works officials pushed to get done now while the lot is unused and the contractor is already in the area. The lots in question haven’t been repaved since the early-1970s, according to Public Works Director Tiger Mann.
With Williams, First Selectman Kevin Moynihan and Selectman Kit Devereaux voted in favor of the contract extension.
Moynihan in responding to Williams said that New Canaan should “continue to move on the train issues because train service is essential to our economy.”
The parking lot in question is “in very bad disrepair,” he said, adding that municipal leaders in January had discussed the possibility of acquiring more property to expand the Talmadge Hill Lot with state representatives, because it’s “a regional station” that serves commuters well beyond New Canaan.
“So on the contrary, Nick, I think are going to remain commuter town into the 21st century and we especially need to respect our commuters who have put with a bad parking lot for a long time,” Moynihan said.
Williams noted that he himself is “one of the few commuters in town government” and that he favors the specific repaving project at Talmadge Hill.
“That is not my point, Kevin,” Williams said. “My point is that I disagree that things are going to go back to the old normal. OK? We will still be a commuter town. I still think I will be going into city. Will I be going in every day? I don’t know. But I am hearing from people in businesses in the city that there could be long-term changes from the implications of COVID-19. That is my point. So for example if we think about, ‘Hey let’s buy more land for commuter spots’—I think we should think long and hard about that.”
He added, “We have to think big-picture about the implications of this disease that may come back in the fall. Or maybe we get another disease. If you talk to the real estate agents, people are fleeing out of New York City.”
Moynihan responded, “And they have to get back in to go to work.”
Williams said, “Actually they don’t. That’s the whole point.”
Mann said he agreed that “there is going to be a sea change as far as what will happen” with commuters. He added that there are 10 lots at the Talmadge Hill Train Station and that prior to working on the others, “we will take a look at it, see what the ridership is in two months, six months a year, and then decide what to do.”
Devereaux said Williams made a “great point” and that no one can know what New Canaan’s parking needs will be between hirings, firings and people working from home.
Moynihan said, “Well, I am bullish on Wall Street and New Canaan being a commuter town.”