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Questions Surround Westport Parking Change

WESTPORT, Conn. – Questioning whether a p roposal to create one parking standard for places of worship and other places of assembly will negatively impact parking at stadiums, the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday night voted to keep the proposal open for another public hearing.

Currently, there are three parking standards in Westport: one for houses of worship, one for theaters and one for auditoriums/stadiums. The proposal, submitted by Westport attorney Lawrence Weisman, seeks to create a single parking standard for all of these places.

“I think it’s imperative to get comments from the schools to see what the impact is on them,” said Louis Mall, a member of Wesptort Representative Town Meeting—the town’s legislative body. “I don’t think it should be up to the generosity of Mr. Weisman to cut their parking requirement, being more restrictive to them, and yet asking you to be less restrictive with [places of worship.]”

Under current standards, theaters are given one parking space for every three seats. Auditoriums and stadiums are given one space for every five seats. Parking standards for places of worship are based upon the building’s maximum occupancy load, which is determined by the fire marshal.

Specifically, the regulations state places of worship are given the greater of one space for each three occupants of the sanctuary as determined by the fire marshal, or one space for each three occupants of all rooms, other than the sanctuary, used for social functions as determined by the fire marshal.

Weisman’s argument for creating one parking standard is that current regulations are discriminatory to places of worship, which leaves the town vulnerable to a lawsuit.

His proposed standard would allow one parking space for every three seats or one parking space for every 45 square feet of floor space used for public assembly, whichever is greater.

“In no other circumstance in town where you legislate the amount of parking that’s required do you take in to account the occupancy as determined by the fire code,” Weisman said. “There’s never been a doubt in my mind that we have to comply with the fire code. But in my view, that has nothing to do with parking requirements.”

Westport Town Attorney Ira Bloom told the commissioners that he agrees with Weisman that the current standards are discriminatory. He said leaving the standard as is “would not be right, in my opinion.”

Although Weisman said he preferred the public hearing be closed, the commission, seeking more information and feedback, particulary from Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy, voted to continue the hearing to March 8.

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