The end of the road has come for a time-honored, but illegal, tradition in neighborhoods near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough where homeowners looking to make a quick buck have charged fans attending games and other large public events to park on their lawns and driveways.
On Monday, Town Meeting voters narrowly agreed by a count of 73 votes to 50 votes to discontinue the practice and charge a $100 fine per vehicle, per day for violators.
Foxborough officials had looked the other way for years and allowed residents to park up to 10 vehicles on their property without a commercial parking lot license even though zoning does not permit it. The practice began soon after the stadium was built and visitors sought cheaper alternatives to parking in stadium lots.
But lately, the town’s public safety officials have voiced increasing concern over liability issues, ranging from ambulances being unable to get where they need to go, to drivers steering their vehicles over private property without permission.
Enforcement, which is still under discussion, would probably require residents in the North Street area to display colored placards on their cars and those of up to three guests during public events that have 15,000 ticket holders or more. The colors would change weekly.
Article 24 came up after a long meeting addressing budget and other issues. But resident Margaret Chaisson of North Street was waiting by the microphone at 11 p.m. for the chance to object.
She said the whole reason the town is battling traffic and safety issues is that it chose to license the National Football League stadium: “With all this talk of quality of life in Foxborough and the casino issue, apparently there is only quality of life for some. This should apply to the whole town.”
Chaisson said North Street residents are already required to get passes from police to allow them to drive on their road when it is blocked off on game days. Now, she said, the new parking ban further “stomps” on their rights.
“You’re telling me I need permission to park in my own driveway?” she said. “That is unacceptable.”
Police Chief Edward O’Leary and members of the town’s Advisory Committee said drastic measures are needed to correct an untenable safety issue that has seen as many as 900 illegally parked cars clogging traffic at any one time in the network of small neighborhoods during events.
Children have been seen standing in the middle of the road holding signs as they try to flag down more customers, he and others said, which is an obvious legal and safety risk. As is charging visitors to park on public ways, as some residents have done, they said.
Further, said O’Leary, “People who have commercial licenses feel that their business is being siphoned by these so-called illegal lots.’’
Greg Spier of Prospect Street, who owns one of those commercial lots on Route 1, said it is not unusual to see property owners jamming as many as 60 cars in a yard without the required lighting, portable toilets, insurance, and other safety measures that commercial lot owners must provide.
“We pay $55 per parking spot between state and local fees,’’ Spier said. “This has gotten totally out of hand. We’re losing revenue and being infringed upon.”
Spier described the complaints of residents who want to keep the status quo as “alligator tears,” and said they are complaining about losing the right to do something they are not even allowed to do.
O’Leary tried to soothe residents’ concerns by noting that when police and town inspectors see two or three cars in a driveway on game and other days, they may assume in all probability the homeowner is hosting family and friends.
“But when we see people taking money, they will receive a noncriminal citation,’’ he said.
Chaisson said she plans to contact the state attorney general’s office to see how the bylaw can be reversed.
Monday night, several residents stood and waited to be heard, but voters shouted from their seats to cut off debate, which only fueled the ire. Some who opposed the new bylaw yelled for a quorum count, to be sure there were still enough residents in attendance to make the action legal.
Former selectman Paul Feeney, a North Street resident, tried to voice his objection after the question was called for a vote, but he was cut off.
On Tuesday, Feeney bemoaned that residents voting at Town Meeting had little respect for debate and the viewpoints of others, and had a propensity to end discussions prematurely.
“We are better than that as a community, and need to embrace debate, discussion, and an open exchange of ideas,’’ he said. “Open town meeting is great on paper, but its practical application leaves a lot to be desired. A representative town meeting would at least bring to the table a group of citizens who will fully vet each article before voting on it.”
Members of the Advisory Committee voted to support the new bylaw. Selectmen did not.