On Tuesday night the city council of Agawam, Mass., home of Six Flags New England, voted unanimously to set aside the new law that was designed to prevent visitors to the park from parking anywhere but in the lots owned by the amusement giant.
For years, private landowners had offered parkgoers a cheaper alternative to the park-owned lots. The cost of parking at Six Flags New England, and all Six Flags outposts, has skyrocketed since the company was taken over by a group led by Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who now serves as chairman of the board. Six Flags New England now charges $15 to $30 for parking. The so-called pirate lots were charging $10 or less when the ban kicked in.
The vote means that the parking ban will be sent back to the Agawam planning board for rewrite.
The ban had been enacted by the council in June at the behest of Six Flags management and Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen (shown here on the left, dancing with Wiggles characters Captain Feathersword, Henry the Octopus, and Dorothy the Dinosaur. Park officials told local lawmakers and the town citizenry that for safety’s sake something had to be done. Cohen lobbied for the measure despite knowing that in the 20 years since the private lots had parked cars for Six Flags visitors, there were no reported accidents or safety issues. The ban’s language, however, created a situation where there was essentially no legal place to park in Agawam other than in Six Flags or government-owned lots.
Michael Palazzi, one of the private parking lot owners affected by the ban, says the townspeople and the council turned on Cohen when they learned that Snyder had used the same bogus safety argument back in 2000 to ban pedestrians from walking into FedExField for Redskins games, thereby forcing fans to park on lots that he owned. The pedestrian ban at the stadium was tossed out after a lawsuit on behalf of Skins ticketholders filed by D.C. lawyer JP Szymkowicz.
Agawamians came out in force to show their disgust with the Six Flags situation. According to a report of the council meeting in the Springfield Republican: “The Rev. Ronald Sadlowski, pastor of Sacred Heart Church, told the council the excuse of public safety was ‘a smoke screen for power.'”
Palazzi now says he couldn’t believe how contrite city officials, other than Cohen, have been since finding out about the Redskins owner’s past dealings. Council President Don Rheault told the meeting that he had been “duped” into believing safety was behind the ban.
“The members of the council apologized to me, personally, on television, for doing Six Flags’ bidding,” says Palazzi, who led the fight for the repeal. “They told me they know now this was never about safetythis was about money for Six Flags.”