Islanders losing parking near Bristol ferry landing

Prudence residents, towns, scrambling to find solution

By Jim McGaw
Posted 2/2/23

BRISTOL — Prudence Island residents may soon find themselves lugging their stuff from the Bristol ferry landing up a hill for 12 minutes to their cars — perhaps even hopping on a bus …

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Islanders losing parking near Bristol ferry landing

Prudence residents, towns, scrambling to find solution


BRISTOL — Prudence Island residents may soon find themselves lugging their stuff from the Bristol ferry landing up a hill for 12 minutes to their cars — perhaps even hopping on a bus first — unless they find a quick solution to their parking woes.

Islanders recently learned that two parking lots owned by Robin Rug on Thames Street in Bristol — one managed by Robin Rug, the other by the Town of Bristol — will close by the end of March. The lots are across the street from the Bristol landing, and only a short walk to the ferry.

It’s a complicated issue because while islanders are residents of Portsmouth, the ferry landing is in Bristol, where even local residents find it difficult to secure parking. Many islanders say both towns should be responsible for finding them parking, since they pay taxes to the Town of Portsmouth and spend a good deal of money at the shops and restaurants in Bristol. 

Town administrators in both towns, however, say there’s not much they can do except help find alternative parking that’s further away from the ferry landing.

“Portsmouth has no control over that,” said Portsmouth Town Administrator Richard Rainer, Jr., adding the current lots are also not owned by the Town of Bristol. “I recognize the issue and I’m willing to work with anybody and everybody to find a solution we can pursue, short of Portsmouth buying property.” 

Islanders pay $800 a year per space to park across from Robin Rug, which is currently owned by Russel Karian. The parking is going away for ferry passengers because Robin Rug is being sold to a developer, Brady Sullivan Properties, which is planning apartments there, similar to the transformation of American Tourister into Tourister Mill in Warren.

At a community forum at the Hope Brown Center on Prudence Island last Thursday, Jan. 26, John Spadaro of the Prudence Island Planning Commission (PIPC) said attorneys for Robin Rug’s buyer have said they don’t want to discuss anything until the deal closes or construction begins — and that includes parking. 

There could be leftover parking spaces when the new development is completed, but that won’t be determined for a number of years, according to Rainer.

Islander Cathy Homan asked if anyone has looked into getting a resident parking sticker from the Town of Bristol. If one can prove “hardship,” non-residents are also eligible, she said.

However, islander Robin Weber said she’s also a Bristol resident and can’t get street parking near the ferry landing.

Still, the hardship angle is worth pursuing, said Spadaro, who noted there are about 12 to 15 commuters who go back and forth every day from Prudence to Bristol. “Just to decide who those 12 lucky people are is another question. How are we going to do that?” he asked.

Is parking a lifeline?

The ferry service to Prudence Island is considered a lifeline, and many islanders feel parking should be considered one as well.

“But the question is, what are we going to do about it? We have no skin in the game,” said Spadaro, noting that Prudence residents have only “269 votes.”

Residents have been in contact with Rainer and his fellow town administrator in Bristol, Steve Contente, about the parking issue. While the managers have been supportive, they don’t have a solution in finding parking near the ferry landing.

“I don’t have authorization to lease or buy property in Bristol … They first thing we need to understand is the primary focus of the (Town) Council is to ensure the lifeline service is intact, and that’s the ferry. The ferry is a lifeline, parking is a convenience,” said Rainer, adding he knows islanders feel differently. (Contente could not be immediately reached before deadline.)

The Portsmouth Town Council discussed the parking issue in an executive session on Monday, Jan. 23. Rainer said he couldn’t comment on the discussion, only to say that no votes were taken.

He and Contente have been exploring alternative parking sites, but they’re farther away from the ferry landing and therefore not as convenient.

One is the former Goglia Market on Wood Street in Bristol. Owner Victor Goglia has made his lot available for parking at a cost of $75 per month or $750 per year. 

Spadaro said that’s one solution, but it means a 12-minute walk from the dock uphill.

Rainer said he’s also working with Contente “to secure parking at (Roger Williams) University during summer months when the students are not in session.” Rainer has also told islanders the Park and Ride on Boyds Lane in Portsmouth is also available.

Shari Weinberger, an islander who participated in last week’s forum remotely from Paraguay, said she received an e-mail from Rainer about the Park and Ride. 

“I said, ‘That’s great. Are we also able to use the school bus to get to the Park and Ride?’” she said, acknowledging her reply was somewhat “snarky.”

Short-term vs. longterm

Islanders say they also need to be thinking about the future — not just what to do when the parking spots near the ferry go away next month.

“We need a short-term solution and we need a longterm solution. We can’t put all our eggs in the basket of a shorter solution when we need a longterm solution,” said Weinberger.

Spadaro agreed. “We have two problems,” he said.

One of those longterm solutions is something that has come up before — moving the entire ferry landing to a spot in Portsmouth, including parking. At last week’s forum, some of the locations mentioned included Stone Bridge, Weaver Cove, and Mt. Hope Park, where the historic Bristol Ferry landing used to be.

Rainer, however, said the town had already completed a survey years ago that concluded there were no feasible town-owned properties for a ferry landing. The town doesn’t own Weaver Cove, Rainer pointed out, and the marina area on the west side “is already running out of space.”

As for Mt. Hope Park, the agreement the town has with Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) calls for a conservation easement there. While he could bring the matter up with ALT, he highly doubted the group would allow ferry parking there.

Some islanders say they don’t want the ferry landing in Portsmouth anyway, since they enjoy coming into Bristol and frequenting the shops and restaurants.

Weber said the only realistic solution is to find parking in Bristol, and near the ferry landing. That would require grants to help fund the purchase and construction of a parking lot, she said.

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.