Restricted parking around Bronstein Park aims to deter overnight ‘car camping,’ drug activity

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No Parking dusk to dawn signs have been posted around Bronstein Park as a temporary solution to overnight parking among people sleeping in their vehicles that city officials say has resulted in drug and other llegal activity. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – A temporary parking ban around Bronstein Park is aimed at eliminating overnight parking among people who are living out of their vehicles.

The ban on parking between dusk and dawn around the perimeter of Bronstein Park was made last week after several departments were notified of complaints about drug activity and people “camping” in their parked vehicles.

Temporary no-parking signs were issued by the Department of Public Works as a “special conditions” ordinance until the next scheduled meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen traffic committee on July 11, when the matter will be discussed.

DPW referred questions about the edict to Manchester Police Department. Attempts by the Ink Link to reach the police Friday for comment were unsuccessful.

Tom Puskarich, whose business, Restoration Cafe, is located at the corner of Union and Hanover streets and whose customers often utilize parking spaces around Bronstein Park, says he doesn’t understand how the signs were allowed to go up overnight without any prior notice – especially to business owners or residents living in the area who rely on street parking.

“This is my car and this has been my spot for seven and a half years,” Puskarich said, leaning on his VW parked at the end of Union Street next to a new “three-hour” parking sign. “Mid-morning on Tuesday all of a sudden all these ‘no parking anytime’ signs went up all around the park.”

He said initially it was the kind of signs the city uses when there’s a marathon or some other momentary event that requires limiting parking. He called Alderman At-Large June Trisciani to see if she could shed some light on why 75 parking spaces in a densely-populated mixed-used area had suddenly been eliminated.

Before he got any answers, things changed again.

“The next day these ‘no parking dusk to dawn’ signs went up instead, and now they’re everywhere. All week long I’ve been asking the questions – can I park here? Can we not park here? What’s going on with the parking here? Am I going to get a ticket?’ Nobody has the answer,” Puskarich said.

Part of his frustration is that parking is a premium to begin with in that area and, in particular, the parking directly across the street from Restoration Cafe is arbitrarily off-limits during the week. Puskarich last year inquired how he might get metered parking approved in those spaces and had to follow a tedious process that included appealing to Public Works and gaining approval by aldermen.  All that happened last November, but Puskarich is still waiting for the metered parking.

And now, instead of making parking more abundant in that area, the city has – at least temporarily – reduced it.

Ward 4 Alderman Christine Fajardo said she did reach out to Puskarich over the weekend to try and answer some of his questions.

“I can totally understand why he feels frustrated and that the processes weren’t the same, but this was a valid process. There were a lot of reports of drug activity and because it’s in a school zone it created a level of urgency with police and fire,” Fajardo said. “That’s when all the flags go up.”

The last time an emergency restriction on park activity was issued at Bronstein Park was in August of 2014 when then-Mayor Ted Gatsas called for “no trespassing signs” to go up around the park in response to an uptick in drug activity.  City emergency crews had a week earlier responded to more than 50 medical calls over a two-day period, many included people transported from city parks, including Bronstein, who had ingested a spice sold over the counter at local convenience stores.

Fajardo said that complaints have been escalating from neighbors since before the “shopping cart ordinance” was enacted last fall.

“Neighbors have been reasonable and patient and empathetic but also have become very concerned about illegal activity around the park,” Fajardo said, prompting at least one neighbor to reach out with concerns to several city officials, including Aldermen Joe Kelly Levasseur, Pat Long, June Trisciani and Farjardo as well as Public Works, Homeless Initiatives, police and fire.

The escalation of the complaints crescendoed during the gap between the last aldermanic meeting, June 7, and the next one, July 11.

Fajardo said she has been told by police that it’s not illegal to park overnight as long as your vehicle is registered, and that there is a limit of 24-hours for overnight parking in the same spot.

“Police have been doing their job and asking people to move who are parked there beyond the 24 hours, but what happens is they literally drive around the block to find a new spot. In theory, police have done what they can and drivers/campers are doing what they were asked to do,” Fajardo said.

She was also told by Chief Cashin that in some instances what they’re seeing is that every 6-7 weeks a person will change the registration on their vehicle.

“They create a bill of sale to another person for one dollar, so they’re continuously on a temporary plate, so there’s some intention or ingenuity there,” Fajardo said.

She said she is looking to the public for ideas and possible solutions rather than the “band-aid” approach that is often taken in addressing the homeless population. It’s one reason why she did not vote in favor of the shopping cart ban.

“I’ve been getting calls about Bronstein since minute one after becoming an alderman, and I believe it’s a legitimate problem. There are people who are homeless creating issues, and a handful are being disruptive and doing drugs, having sex, defecating, urinating – also on private property and in alleyways,” Fajardo said.

“One salon across from Bronstein has reported someone every morning peeing in their bushes. That’s why it was a tough vote for me. It probably appeared I was not in support of what business owners and residents need, but this is what we do; we put a band-aid on things instead of working toward solutions.”

Fajardo added that shortly after the shopping cart ban people fled the parks and congregated outside the FIT shelter and creating a “full-blown encampment” that had to be dismantled by police in January.

“So I don’t want to create another ordinance around parking because they may not park here but where will they go next? Another park? The answer is yes. I get really stuck on this because it’s a conundrum. It may help for a short time until it doesn’t work and we think we did something about it because we took a vote but we didn’t really do anything effective to address the problem,” Fajardo said.

It is her understanding that the city departments that initiated the emergency order are going to be revising it prior to July’s aldermanic meeting.

“Chief Cashin said either Tuesday or Wednesday given Monday is a holiday,” Fajardo said. “The intent is that it will be much more considerate of residents and businesses. The logic was let’s take this extreme measure to break up that pattern and go from there.”

Puskarich is skeptical that the signs are a temporary fix. Or a fix at all.

“They printed up signs. It doesn’t look very temporary to me,” he said. “And know what else? This isn’t a new problem. There have been people ‘camping’ from their cars around this park for years. Usually, they don’t show up until later in the summer but I want to know why the urgency to post the ‘no parking’ signs. This is hurting my business.”

The issue of parking around Bronstein Park will go before the Board of Aldermen on July 11.

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About this Author

Carol Robidoux

PublisherManchester Ink Link

Longtime NH journalist and publisher of Loves R&B, German beer, and the Queen City!