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Gillette Stadium neighbors irked by new parking ban

FOXBOROUGH — From her family farm just behind Gillette Stadium, Nancy Lawton has lived with the snarled traffic, the bellowing hordes of departing fans, the police checkpoints that delay customers and workers alike.

Given her first-hand experience with game-day headaches, Lawton would seem a natural supporter of a new bylaw banning a long-standing local tradition — selling space on driveways and lawns to serve as satellite parking lots for the stadium.

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Instead, Lawton’s frustrations place her squarely on the side of the game-day entrepreneurs. Think of that extra income as hard-earned payback, she said.

“We are carrying a lot of burden for the town’s benefit,” said Lawton, who does not sell spaces but lets friends use her driveway for the games. “I think they deserve a little money for their trouble. I think it’s their right.”

The controversial rule, which goes into effect Friday during a country music festival, prohibits residents from charging Gillette patrons to park on their property, a practice that police and some residents who live near the stadium say has gotten out of hand.

“It’s been a growing issue because of the high volume of traffic,” said Edward O’Leary, the town’s police chief. “We had to do something.”

Residents on North Street, which leads off Route 1 through an upscale residential neighborhood near the stadium, are the most aggressive hawkers, attracting many fans who want to avoid notorious Route 1 backups.

‘I heard people were having price wars across from each other.’

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But others say the bylaw unjustly strips residents of their property rights and will do little to stem the flow of cars through the neighborhood for concerts and Patriots games. Plus, several residents said, the Patriots and team owner Robert Kraft — who charge $40 to park at the stadium — are plenty rich already.

And locals could use the money, they said.

“It’s Christmas money,” said Terri Lawton, Nancy’s daughter. “They need it a lot more than Bob Kraft.”

Residents who had charged for parking were reluctant to speak openly, but one resident of a side street that leads to the stadium said privately that she and her husband had taken in about 16 cars for games, $25 a pop. Under the previous bylaw, residents could allow as many as 10 cars to park in their yard.

They did not even have to be at home to collect the money, she said. Regulars would just leave the money in an envelope in the mailbox.

“It’s really too bad,” she said of the ban. “It’s great for the parkers, too. They can avoid Route 1.”

She said she would comply, but wondered how police would ever know if she collected money or just let people park for free.

O’Leary said the bylaw is aimed at reducing backups of cars pulling off the road and preventing a handful of homeowners from turning their lawns into quasi-commercial stations.

“Some people were standing by the road waving people in off the street,” he said. “I heard people were having price wars across from each other.”

O’Leary said enforcement will focus on obvious violations — such as people advertising prices on signs and escorting lines of cars on to their property. He quipped that he will not be combing through people’s bank accounts to look for suspiciously timed deposits.

The law carries a substantial deterrent, with violations carrying a $100-per-vehicle fine.

Despite efforts to direct cars away from the neighborhood, traffic worsened last year, and complaints mounted. After sharp debate, Town Meeting approved the ban this spring, and the attorney general’s office recently upheld the regulation as constitutional.

“This is a classic exercise of the town’s general police power,” the office found.

Some residents who allow friends and family to park for free worry the town will enforce the law too vigorously.

“There were a few people blatantly abusing the system, so I can understand the town wanting to get to the bottom of it,” said Chris Orena, 39, who walks to the Patriots games with a group of friends. “But it’s not right for the town to tell me I can’t have people over.”

Chris Shanks, who has lived on North Street for three years, said he opened his yard to parkers once, and it was full in no time. That translated into $120 in easy money.

“They literally came to you,” he said.

But the next morning, he found beer bottles strewn in the yard and decided the parking business — lucrative or not — was not for him.

“It’s not worth it,” he said.

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.
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