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New parking ordinance at city council

Date: 6/14/2007

By Katelyn Gendron-List, Staff Writer

AGAWAM After a heated and prolonged series of testimonies from residents and the CEO of Six Flags, over the issue of transient parking, the Agawam City Council decided to delay their final vote on a new ordinance that some claim would stop transient parking all together.

After giving his passionate testimony in support of the ordinance, during this four-hour city council meeting on June 4, Mark Shapiro, CEO of Six Flags left abruptly when it became clear that the council would not vote on the ordinance that evening.

"He was clearly disappointed," Larry Litton, Park President of Six Flags New England, said of Shapiro's abrupt exit. "But he told me not to be discouraged because we were finally getting to them and eventually they will do the right thing."

Mayor Richard Cohen, in conjunction with various legal, legislative and public service personnel, proposed an article to amend the current zoning ordinance that allows for transient parking in Business B District.

The new ordinance specifically defines temporary or transient parking and requires a special permit from the Board of Appeals for all those who want to have temporary parking on their property, according to Cohen.

Many private homeowners on Main Street, across from Six Flags, came forth at the joint city council and planning board meeting in order to testify about their experiences with transient parking and loiterers on their properties.

Lueen Jodoin, a resident of Main Street and supporter of the new ordinance, has a next-door neighbor with an open lot on his property that he uses to park the cars of those people going to Six Flags everyday.

"I have people picnicking on my lawn and I've got dirty diapers and broken bottles on my lawn," Jodoin said. "People choose to relieve themselves on my back yard and my son can't go out and play because of the broken bottles."

According to Jodoin, once the people have paid the $10 to park their car in her neighbor's lot it costs $15 to park at the lot at Six Flags they then walk across Massachusetts Highway 159 in order to get to the theme park.

"I'm just waiting for some woman with a kid in a stroller to get run over," Jodoin said.

The main reason for the new ordinance is public safety, according to Cohen.

"This ordinance will significantly reduce the number of pedestrians on Main Street and prevent any future dangerous situations there and on all of our city streets," said Cohen.

According to Shapiro, on any given weekend Six Flags New England can see anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 people per day.

However some residents are not in favor of the new ordinance as they feel it would hinder them from continuing their parking businesses.

Michael Palazzi, owner of South Agawam Storage, whose business is to store cars, boats and RVs in a general warehouse, additionally parks cars for patrons going to Six Flags for the day.

Palazzi, who is against the new parking ordinance, claims that he already applied for a parking permit for 39 spaces from the Zoning Board of Appeals but was denied because he did not have adequate sidewalks.

As far as the issue of safety is concerned Palazzi said, "I've never had any accidents in the 20 years I've owned my business."

However Shapiro disagrees. During his testimony to the City Council and the City Planning Board he stated that this is a safety issue and that Six Flags has been besieged by letters from many of its patrons stating their concerns.

"We have 20 other parks and we don't have this issue at any other park across the United States," Shapiro said.

Shapiro went on to state that there have been problems of "pirate" parking lots at two other Six Flags theme parks in the past, which raised safety concerns, but they have since been sold. However Shapiro quickly went on to say that the sale of the Six Flags in Agawam was not something that would happen.

"We want the new ordinance in place and to make the penalties for transient parking stiffer," Shapiro said. "If the parking is too expensive don't come to Six Flags because we don't want people to get hurt."

The meeting ended with a positive recommendation to the city council from the city planning board, however the city council failed to give a final vote on the ordinance. Instead they voted positively on the first reading of the ordinance and will vote on the final reading on June 18. The ordinance will need a two-thirds majority vote of the entire city council to pass, according to Gina Letellier, an attorney and Agawam City Councilor.

"It's frustrating that the council didn't pass it tonight," said Jodoin. "But this is the first meeting where we're making progress. These things can't happen overnight."