When thousands of fans make their way to Foxborough Sunday for the New England Patriots’ home opener, the town’s recently enacted parking bylaw will face its first real test since passing May’s Town Meeting.
The bylaw – which bans residents from parking vehicles on their property for a fee during Gillette Stadium events in which 15,000 or more tickets are available – was reviewed and approved by Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office last month, according to an Aug. 8 letter to the town from Assistant Attorney General Margaret J. Hurley.
While the parking ban was enacted for the first time on Aug. 24 and 25 for the New England Country Music Festival, Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary said there were no violations during the two-day festival that brought over 100,000 people to Foxborough.
“There were no fines issued during [Country Fest],” said O’Leary, adding that parking for a fee in residential areas – primarily along North Street and the neighborhoods surrounding Gillette Stadium - has rarely been a problem during major concerts but becomes a significant issue during Patriots games.
"The purpose of the bylaw was to reduce traffic congestion in parts of town during major stadium events," O'Leary said. "Over the past several years there’s been substantial growth and traffic flow created and is still created [in residential areas near Gillette Stadium during Patriots games], which becomes a public safety hazard at the end of the night.
"This increased traffic flow and parking is a result of numerous paid parking operations that have developed as a side industry along North Street and has migrated to other areas of the town near Route 1."
Sunday’s home opener against the Arizona Cardinals at 1 p.m. is the first Patriots game in Foxborough since Coakley's office informed the town the parking bylaw is constitutional and may be enforced by local authorities.
While the bylaw was not in effect during either of the Patriots’ preseason games in August, Foxborough Building Inspector William Casbarra, who will work with Foxborough Police to enforce the ban, told selectmen at their Aug. 21 meeting he witnessed nearly a dozen homeowners attempting to wave him onto their property to park for a fee during the Patriots' Aug. 20 preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
“In my personal car, with my sunglasses on and a hat – I looked like a movie star – I drove down North Street and was waved in [to park for a fee] by 11 homeowners," said Casbarra, referring to activity prior to the Aug. 20 Patriots game. ... "I'm going to be back and if you are someone that is charging [to park], you are going to get a ticket."
Residents found in violation of the town's parking bylaw will face a $100 fine for each parked vehicle in violation. But determining what is a violation of the bylaw as opposed to friends and family members coming over to a resident's house during events has some citizens in the North Street area concerned.
Nancy Campany, a lawyer who lives on Messinger Avenue, voiced the concerns of many residents when she told selectmen at the Aug. 21 meeting and again at the Sept. 4 meeting that the town needs to establish policies for how to enforce the bylaw.
The concern many residents in the area have is the bylaw may prevent them from having friends and family over days of a major stadium event because local authorities enforcing the parking ban won't know who is charging for parking and who is not.
“Concern is the presumption by law enforcement that a certain number of cars parked on a lot might be [considered] a violation,” said Campany, who recently chaired a citizen group that was established in June to suggest criteria for parking of vehicles on residential property during stadium events. … “Enforcement should have to have evidence in order for the violation to garner a ticket. … You can’t just assume because there’s 10 cars that it’s parking for pay.”
O'Leary explained how the parking bylaw will be enforced by his department in an attempt to relieve citizens of their concerns.
"At this point, the [police] department will monitor parking operations and issue civil citations when violations of the paid parking element occurs," O'Leary said. "This will be done, as in the past, through normal police procedures. There seems to be some mistaken issue within the community that parking tickets will be issued to individual cars that are parked in a person’s yard. That is not the case. The bylaw pertains specifically to people who park cars for pay."
O’Leary added when a person in violation of the bylaw receives a ticket, it is deemed a civil offense and the violator has two choices – pay the fine or appeal it.
“It can be paid at the town clerk’s office,” O’Leary said. “If you wish to appeal the ticket, it can be appealed at the court’s office of Wrentham District Court. If you fail to pay and fail to appeal then a criminal court summons could be issued.”
Foxborough Board of Selectmen vice-chair Mark Sullivan, who serves as chairman during discussions of the parking bylaw because BOS chair James DeVellis lives in the North Street area, says he's confident the town will know who's charging for parking and who isn't.
“If you are having friends and family over, I think we will understand that,’’ Sullivan said. ... "You need to stop parking cars if you’re collecting money, no matter where you are in town."
Despite O'Leary's explanation and Sullivan's reassurance, Campany insisted selectmen create policies for the bylaw to avoid confusion, citing Hurley's Aug. 8 letter to the town, which states the AG’s Office understands "the town would adopt policies to implement its regulation of parking for a fee so that it is applied only to parking for a fee and not to other non-commercial parking of vehicles."
"You as a board have to sit down and develop a policy and vote to adopt it,” Campany told the Board of Selectmen at the Aug. 21 meeting. “I seriously question whether this [bylaw] can go into effect until you have done just that.”
Town Counsel Richard Gelerman, who was not present at the Aug. 21 meeting, told selectmen at the Sept. 4 meeting that while the board has the authority to create policies for the bylaw, he believes it's an unnecessary action to take.
"You can adopt further regulations but you don't have to," Gelerman told selectmen on Sept. 4. ... "By itself, the bylaw is enforceable without any further regulation. It is enforceable by the police department as long as they reasonably perceive parking to be a threat to public safety, traffic safety, and pedestrian safety. They can stop [parking] under the authority of the bylaw."
And what about for residents wanting to park friends and family on their property on the same day as a major event at the stadium?
"The bylaw also regulates parking of friends and family," said Gelerman. "It regulates it by prohibiting it where it’s a safety hazard or hazard to pedestrian traffic or a nuisance. ... [The selectmen] need not do anything further. You can if you want and you do have the authority to create regulations pursuant to which the bylaw would be enforced but I don't think you have to."
That regulation is precisely what Campany would like as she encouraged selectmen to set a policy to clarify what justifies a resident being in violation of the bylaw even when they are not parking vehicles on their property for a fee as previously stated by Gelerman.
"I think it would be a good thing for the selectmen to issue a policy because what we were talking about here was the matter of enforcement," Campany said. "When we all went to Town Meeting we saw the police chief stand up and suggest that he felt parking more than the number of cars you have registered to you at your address should be deemed a violation of the bylaw. I don’t think that’s what people voted on at Town Meeting and I think that it could be the role of the selectmen to clarify that."
Sullivan believed Gelerman's explanation provided Campany with the clarification she was seeking.
"I think we did clarify that," Sullivan told Campany. "The building inspector was here [on Aug. 21] and said he knows who’s doing it and who’s not doing it. We have you your answer.”
For the time being, selectmen rejected the idea of establishing policies for the parking bylaw, citing Gelerman's explanation as the reason.
As for Sunday, the town and its concerned residents will have to wait and see how the parking bylaw is enforced and address any issues with that enforcement at future selectmen meetings. The BOS meets again Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 7 p.m.
Sullivan said he expects the parking ban to go through its share of growing pains.
“Like most things, it will improve as the day goes on,” said Sullivan. … “It’s a quality of life issue for a lot of people.”
So Foxborough, we want to know ...
Today's question: What do you think of the Foxborough’s bylaw that bans residents from parking vehicles on their property for a fee during major events? Let us know in the comments section below!