Foxborough backs off ban on private game-day parking

By Michele Morgan Bolton
Globe Correspondent / October 18, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Their reasons for offering fan parking for sporting and other events at nearby Gillette Stadium were basic: Some have lost their jobs, others are both sick and out of work. One father said he relies on the income from letting people park on his lawn to buy holiday gifts for his five children.

A group of Foxborough residents who live near the stadium pleaded their case at a public hearing Tuesday, asserting that they need to be allowed to offer parking to sports and music fans.

And in the end, town officials agreed and backed off a plan to crack down on illegal parking lots, saying their effort to get residents to get things under control has been successful. So for the time being, Foxborough will continue to look the other way as long as residents don’t have more than nine vehicles parked for a fee on their property on days when there’s an event at Gillette Stadium.

The hearing, which drew several dozen residents from the North Street area, followed reports that local police and building officials were concerned about safety and increased traffic as drivers search side streets near the Route 1 stadium for parking deals. Foxborough, the officials said, was ready to take serious action.

Confusing the issue is a disconnect between a four-year-old zoning amendment that prohibits commercial parking in the area’s residential district, and a town regulation that allows parking operations without a license for fewer than 10 vehicles.

On days when games or concerts are held at the 68,000-capacity stadium, as many as 30 vehicles have been crammed onto some yards, officials say.

But before even one person could make a case at Tuesday’s hearing, Selectwoman Lynda Walsh announced that she sides with residents.

“I say leave it alone for now,’’ the board’s vice chairwoman said as the hearing opened. “It seems like people are heeding the warning and getting back to reality again,’’ by understanding there is a limit to the number of vehicles they may put on their property.

Walsh said she parked cars at her grandmother’s house years ago when the family lived on North Street. And as someone who is also recently out of a job, she added, “I definitely see the need.’’

A few dozen residents in area side streets have seized on the opportunity for years, offering cheaper alternatives to the fees - $40 and $50 this season - charged by the stadium and authorized satellite parking lots, and a way to avoid the nightmarish Route 1 logjam before and after popular events at the complex.

But an uptick of side-street traffic and numbers of cars parked all over driveways and lawns this year prompted a closer look as officials sought to rein in hazards including, they said, young children walking into the roadway with signs to lure customers for their family’s lot.

“I went down North Street, and people were flagging me,’’ said the town’s building commissioner, William Casbarra. “Let’s take steps back and get this thing under control.’’

North Street is supposed to be closed to motorists other than local residents. But Police Chief Edward O’Leary said it’s impossible to check everyone who comes through.

“If we screen out someone from coming in that could be a relative, then we’d get more flak,’’ he said. “I’ve told my staff, use your best judgment’’ when checking drivers, he said, “as long as their faces aren’t painted.’’’

There already are other inconsistencies, O’Leary said. There were 83 cars parked along Hartwell, Hallowell, and Harlow streets, off North, during the Patriots’ last home game. While no one was charging for those spots, the roads have also never been posted as no-parking zones, he said.

Foxborough licenses 36 lots and receives $6 a space in all but a few charity lots, which pay $3 per space, officials said. All legal lots are charged $100 for each car over the legal limit, and officials had floated the idea of eliminating the fewer-than-10-vehicles parking rule for residents and replacing it with a flat $100 fine if people took money to allow even one car to be left on their property.

That was not expected to go down favorably, but the issue was not directly addressed at Tuesday’s hearing because Walsh indicated right from the start which way selectmen were planning to go on the issue.

Some residents offered to give the town a cut of their receipts, if they were given permission to charge for parking.

“We have done parking before,’’ said Karen Lovejoy, who lives on North Street. “We would love to get a parking permit and wouldn’t mind giving the town $6 a space because we need the money.’’

Casbarra said zoning rules won’t allow it. Like most other North Street homes, Lovejoy’s is in the R-40 zoning area, where no commercial licenses can be granted. Only three properties, where North Street meets Route 1, are zoned differently.

But even though the zoning bylaws preclude commercial parking, the signal from officials Tuesday was that they have been looking the other way for decades and they will continue to do so as long as the residents who offer parking stay below the 10-car threshold.

North Street resident Jim Gilreith said he is often thanked by residents across town who park with him regularly, glad to be able to avoid stadium traffic and high parking prices.

“The money is obviously helpful this time of year,’’ he said. “I don’t see what’s wrong with it.’’

For residents like Jillian Ryan, it’s the fewer-than-10-vehicles rule that confuses. Does it apply to the scores of family members she and her husband regularly host on game days?

Ryan said she and husband have 11 siblings between them, “and they all park at my house for free. And we own three cars.’’

Similarly, Lynn Patrick said she wasn’t clear whether her relatives can park at her house under the proposed regime.

Officials said residents, for now, will be left alone if there are fewer than 10 vehicles on their property.

“We’ll come knocking if we see 10 or 11 cars or more,’’ Casbarra said.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at