Two New Bedford city councilors have sent a letter to the City’s Board of Park Commissioners formally asking them to rescind the decision to implement paid parking at Marine Park, the site of the Pope’s Island Marina and Noah’s Place, a handicapped-accessible playground.

The letter was sent by Ward 4 Councilor Derek Baptiste, whose ward the park is in, and Ward 6 City Councilor Ryan Pereira, who first brought this issue to light after discovering it on the park board agenda.

The letter is addressed to Peter Boswell, Chair of the Board of Park Commissioners. Mary Rapoza, Director of Parks, Recreation and Beaches, was also mailed a copy.

“We are requesting that the Board of Park Commissioners review this decision at the next meeting and rescind this decision. We will be in attendance at the scheduled meeting on April 27, 2022 to voice our reasons behind this opposition,” the councilors wrote.

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In the letter, the councilors state they are “deeply concerned” with the decision to switch to paid parking at the site, which would allow for those using Noah’s Place to have two free hours of parking before having to pay $3 per hour or a maximum of $15 per day. Those renting boat slips at the Pope’s Island Marina would receive one free parking pass, and all others using the marina would be required to pay.

Read the complete letter here.

The parking program, which was unanimously approved by the park board on March 16 despite a letter from Councilor Pereira asking them to table the issue, will go into effect April 15 and run through October 31.

In his weekly appearance on WBSM Wednesday, New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell said the parking plan is not intended to negatively affect families with disabled children using the playground, but rather preserving space for them. He said as the 196-slip marina and the playground grow in popularity, leaving the 172 parking spaces unmetered would continue to cause problems, and that “the status quo there is untenable.” He also said ferry goers to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are parking there and walking to the ferry rather than paying $15 to park at the Whale’s Tooth lot.

“There has been a general concern of late, growing and intensifying, that people are being crowded out of that playground. If they’re not already, they will be in the high season,” Mitchell said. “So as much as people’s first reaction is ‘wait a minute, you have to pay to park there, how can you do that,’ the motivation by the Park Department, the Port Authority and the Traffic Division is quite the opposite. It is to preserve the availability of those spaces.”

The money raised from the parking fees would be put back into maintaining the site, including the playground, which was built by the Team Noah Foundation after raising $2 million in private donations. Team Noah has also maintained the playground since it opened in November 2017, but that contract ends in September of this year, at which point maintenance on 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 disabled children, and that his understanding is that they would be offered “three to four hours” of free parking.

“Two hours maybe okay for a regular citizen, but for special needs families, absolutely not,” Fernandes said.

In a statement released Tuesday, the New Bedford Port Authority pointed out that anyone coming to the playground with a handicapped plate or placard would be able to park the entire time for free, per state law. However, opponents of the parking fees point out that not all children with disabilities are eligible for placards.

Mitchell said on Wednesday that he has asked the bodies involved in making the decision – the New Bedford Port Authority, the Traffic Commission and the Board of Park Commissioners – to review the situation.

“Is there anything you can improve upon? Time of day, season – they’re going to go back and take a look at that,” he said. “I’ve asked them to take that up, so they’ll go back and see if this policy can be improved.”

However, Councilors Baptiste and Pereira want to see the park board’s decision rescinded.

“Please take this into consideration and let’s work to rectify this issue as soon as possible so that we may not affect our families both at the playground and at the marina,” they wrote.

A change.org petition was started by boaters that utilize the Pope’s Island Marina to eliminate the parking fees, and a group was gathering signatures today on behalf of the families that utilize Noah’s Place outside of Market Basket in New Bedford. They say they plan on being out in front of the store again on Friday from 9 a.m. until noon.

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