Two New Bedford city councilors have sent a letter to the city’s Board of Park Commissioners formally asking them to reverse the decision to implement paid parking at Marine Park, the site of Pope’s Island Marina and Noah’s Place , a playground accessible to people with disabilities.
The letter was sent by Ward 4 Councilman Derek Baptiste, in whose ward the park is located, and Ward 6 Councilman Ryan Pereira, who first brought the issue to light after discovering it at the park council agenda.
The letter is addressed to Peter Boswell, Chairman of the Board of Park Commissioners. Mary Rapoza, director of parks, recreation and beaches, also received a copy in the mail.
“We ask the Board of Park Commissioners to review this decision at the next meeting and rescind this decision. We will be present at the meeting scheduled for April 27, 2022 to express our reasons behind this opposition,” the councilors wrote.
In the letter, councilors say they are “deeply concerned” about the decision to switch to paid parking at the site, which would allow those using Noah’s Place to have two hours of free parking before having to pay $3. hour or a maximum. $15 per day. Those renting boat ramps at Pope’s Island Marina would receive a free parking pass, and all other marina users would be required to pay.
Read the full letter here.
The parking program, which was unanimously approved by the park’s board on March 16 despite a letter from Councilor Pereira asking them to file the matter, will come into effect on April 15 and run until March 31. October.
During his weekly appearance on WBSM on Wednesday, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the parking plan was not intended to negatively affect families with disabled children using the playground, but rather to preserve their space . He said that as the 196-slot marina and playground grows in popularity, leaving all 172 parking spaces unmetered will continue to cause problems and “the status quo there is untenable”. He also said Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket ferry goers park there and walk to the ferry rather than pay $15 to park at the Whale’s Tooth lot.
“There’s been a general concern lately, growing and intensifying, that people are being squeezed out of this playing field. If they aren’t already, they will be in peak season,” Mitchell said. “So even though people’s first reaction is ‘wait a minute, you have to pay to park there, how can you do that’, the motivation of the parks department, the port authority and the division circulation is completely opposite, to preserve the availability of these spaces.
Money raised from parking fees would be reinvested in maintaining the site, including the playground, which was built by the Team Noah Foundation after raising $2 million in private donations. The Noah team has also maintained the playground since it opened in November 2017, but that contract ends in September of this year, at which time maintenance of the playground and its grounds will be the responsibility of the City.
Victor Fernandes, the founder of Team Noah, said he doesn’t think two hours of free parking is enough for families with children with disabilities, and he understands they would be offered “three to four hours” free parking.
“Two hours might be fine for an ordinary citizen, but for families with special needs, absolutely not,” Fernandes said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Port Authority of New Bedford pointed out that anyone coming to the playground with a handicap plaque or sign could park for free all the time, according to state law. However, opponents of parking fees point out that not all children with disabilities are eligible for signs.
Mitchell said Wednesday he had asked the agencies involved in the decision-making — the Port Authority of New Bedford, the Traffic Commission and the Board of Park Commissioners — to review the situation.
“Is there anything you can improve? Time of day, season – they’re going to go back and take a look,” he said. “I asked them to take care of it, so they will come back to see if this policy can be improved.”
However, councilors Baptiste and Pereira want to see the park council’s decision overturned.
“Please take this into consideration and are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible so that we do not affect our families both on the playground and at the marina,” they wrote.
A change.org petition has been started by boaters who use Pope’s Island Marina to eliminate parking fees, and a group was today collecting signatures on behalf of families who use Noah’s Place outside Market Basket in New Bedford. They say they plan to be in front of the store again on Friday from 9 a.m. to noon.
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