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Penalty flags fly for parking

Gillette Stadium neighbors whistled by town for operating illegal lots on Patriots game days

The front yard of 200 North St. in Foxborough, the only legal residential parking near Gillette Stadium, before the Patriots’ game last Sunday. The front yard of 200 North St. in Foxborough, the only legal residential parking near Gillette Stadium, before the Patriots’ game last Sunday. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / October 11, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Parking is big business in Patriotsland when the more than 68,000 football-a-holics who cram area roadways on game days are willing to pay what they must to ditch the car and be in their seats by kickoff.

That’s $40 each in lots on the grounds of massive Gillette Stadium and $50 each in satellite lots outside the stadium.

For years, a few dozen residents on local side streets have quietly offered a cheaper alternative - stacking cars in their yards and driveways and charging as little as $15 a pop. But an increase of volume this year has prompted town officials to declare a sort of illegal-parking emergency and take steps to quash the practice.

Foxborough selectmen will hold a public hearing Tuesday to discuss a plan to tighten the town’s parking regulations so that even one car parked illegally for a fee would result in a $100 fine.

The move is based on complaints from some residents of North and Pine streets, who rue increased traffic from their neighbors’ entrepreneurial efforts. The town’s building commissioner and police chief are also unhappy, saying the illegal parking has gotten out of control.

“In past years it wasn’t a real issue, but now, with prices up and the economy down, more people seem to want to pick up a few bucks on a Sunday,’’ said the building commissioner, William Casbarra. “This is a hot-button issue, but it’s also a quality-of-life issue.’’

While no other local community hosts a professional football stadium, some, like Marshfield and Brockton, which throw huge annual fairs, and Mansfield, with concerts at the Comcast Center, must find ways to accommodate vehicles carrying crowds in the thousands that can spill into neighborhoods.

In Foxborough, a disconnect in town statutes for years has allowed residents to park up to 10 cars on a property without a license. But that directly conflicts with a recent change to zoning bylaws that outlawed all commercial parking in an R-40 district, which constitutes most of the North Street area.

North Street itself is supposed to be closed to through traffic when games and concerts are sold out at Gillette. Police checkpoints in a number of adjoining neighborhoods meant to screen drivers who either live on the road or are visiting someone there don’t work, Casbarra and others said.

During the past two weeks, town and police officials have leaked word of the impending rule change and fine, and police, fire, and building department officials have run patrols in the areas around the stadium looking for illegal parking. Less of the activity was reported on North and Pine streets during the past two home games, said officials, while their phones at Town Hall were ringing constantly with questions about policy and punishment from affected residents.

“Last Sunday, everyone was behaving themselves,’’ Casbarra said. “We had to make a few calls. And we’ll send out letters to everyone.’’

The issue clearly is touchy for residents who live near the stadium. Some say the real problem is traffic control, not parking, using as just one example a taxi service that seems to be regularly allowed through the police checkpoint to drop people off at Ashcroft Lane - near a cut-through over the railroad tracks to the stadium. That allows those fans easy access to the stadium, even though police are only supposed to allow residents into the area during games and concerts.

Last Sunday, a week after town officials issued their first warning, business had slowed but was still brisk as about a dozen residents offered space on their North Street yards hours before the New England Patriots kicked off against the visiting Baltimore Ravens. Few of them would talk about the issue on the record with a Globe photographer, or give their names.

One man, whose $35 fee was $5 less than the only legally licensed lot on the street, smiled as he pointed out the new shoes his parking revenues had yielded for his son as reason enough for the effort in tough economic times.

The legal lot, at 200 North St., is run by the Davis family and is a grandfathered enterprise that allows for 22 vehicles at $40 each near the intersection of Route 1. The Davis family did not want to comment for this story.

Town officials said the Davis family’s is the smallest of 36 lots the town officially allows; all the others are nonresidential, and the largest, on Route 1, can hold 14,618 vehicles.

Boosting receipts at licensed lots does not seem to be playing into the town’s crackdown on illegal parking. Officials said the town receives $6 a space in each lot it licenses for legitimate parking, except for a smattering of charity lots where the town receives $3 a space. Cracking down on illegal parking would not significantly increase the town’s take, the officials said.

In recent weeks, though, police and building officials said they became concerned when children began carrying signs out in the street to solicit business for their families’ lots. That, and the increased traffic in the usually quiet residential area, is a potential disaster, Casbarra and Police Chief Edward O’Leary said.

“People can’t get greedy and let things get out of control,’’ the building commissioner said.

Two Sundays ago, Casbarra said, he noticed 17 vehicles parked at one address on Ashcroft Lane. Those residents were sent a warning, he said.

But what confuses the issue is that many residents allow friends to park at their homes for Gillette events, officials said. So an abundance of vehicles outside a property can mean a family party on a concert day. It’s hard to know for sure, O’Leary said.

Stacey James, a spokesman for Gillette Stadium, declined comment when asked whether unlicensed game-day parking was a concern for the facility, characterizing the matter as “a local issue.’’

Before and after Gillette events, said Casbarra, Route 1 from the stadium to the intersection of Interstate 495 resembles the longest driveway in the state. But that’s a byproduct of planting a National Football League stadium in a small town instead of in a large metropolis better able to handle the volume.

That’s why Foxborough promotes tailgating, Casbarra said, to get some cars into legitimate parking lots earlier.

Town Administrator Andrew Gala said the Board of Selectmen will consider recommendations by Casbarra and O’Leary on parking regulations. But the five-member board may also come up with a different solution, or a compromise, as well, he said.

Gala said he wasn’t sure whether selectmen will render a decision the night of the public hearing, or whether they will need more time to decide what to do.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at mmbolton1@verizon.net.

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