Concord City Council adopts plan for Main Street
The Main Street Advisory Comittee presents their findings to the City Council for a public hearing and vote; November 26, 2012. (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »
The Concord City Council last night unanimously accepted recommendations from an advisory committee for the $7.85 million Main Street redesign project. The council’s vote provides both guidance and flexibility for the project’s design team, which will present final design options in the coming months.
The advisory committee’s report recommended reducing traffic on Main Street to two wide lanes, widening sidewalks and including some parallel parking if the loss of parking spaces would be limited.
But funding and design details are not final. Details are “something that we’re going to have to wrestle with in the spring,” Mayor Jim Bouley said.
City Engineer Ed Roberge told the city council that the hardest part of the project will begin today; engineers and designers must work quickly and return to the city council by March with design options, and again in May.
“How do we balance big and bold with fiscal responsibility” will become the designers’ biggest challenge, Roberge said.
The project’s schedule is dictated by the $4.71 million federal grant the city received in June to redesign 12 blocks of Concord’s Main Street by improving safety, accessibility and economic vitality. Construction is scheduled to begin next fall and be complete by 2015.
Steve Duprey, the advisory committee’s chairman, presented the report to the council last night with committee members Will Delker and Kerrie Diers.
Delker said the recommendation offers “flexibility to provide a truly transformative Main Street without losing significant parking.”
At the end of the nearly four-hour meeting during which the council heard from more than a dozen residents and business owners, Duprey told the council that the project is based on economic vitality. He said studies and other cities’ experiences show that streetscape projects help cities thrive.
“There’s nobody alive in this room that can guarantee that if we do these improvements, that our downtown will thrive,” he said. “But I think I can guarantee that if you do not make an investment in your downtown, you are going to see it atrophy further.”
The advisory committee, formally called the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee, was appointed in September to develop recommendations about the Main Street project for the city council.
The 17-member advisory committee made up of downtown property owners, business owners, residents and city officials met twice weekly from the end of September until mid-November, when it finalized its report.
The report recommends:
∎ A two-lane Main Street with a crossable center median; City Engineer Ed Roberge has said the design would function as a three-lane road. Both travel lanes would have arrows painted in the pavement to remind motorists to share the road with cyclists.
∎ Parallel parking along one side of Main Street or portions of one side – but only if the loss of parking spaces is limited. The committee agreed to a loss of five parking spaces between Centre and Pleasant streets, in addition to those that will already be lost to meet safety and accessibility regulations. Meeting those regulations would lead to an automatic loss of about 16 parking spaces between Centre and Pleasant streets, Roberge has estimated.
∎ Applying for a tax credit grant from the state’s Community Development Finance Authority to fund the $1.57 million – or 20 percent – that must come from the private sector. The federal grant will cover 60 percent of the estimated cost, and the city will cover the remaining 20 percent.
∎ Establishing a special assessment district to pay for any amount not covered by tax credit grants. Downtown property owners would pay off the debt over 20 years.
∎ Heating sidewalks and, if possible, the road with Concord Steam heat.
∎ Doing construction work at night.
∎ Keeping the advisory committee in place for feedback on design options as they develop.
The city council heard public testimony from a number of residents last night.
Gerry Carrier, owner of Little River Oriental Rugs on North Main Street, spoke on behalf of many downtown merchants. He expressed concern about a loss of parking spaces and a lengthy construction period but said most merchants he knows support the project.
“The merchants are supportive of the report as written and see this as an opportunity to resolve many issues that exist in the downtown,” Carrier said.
Richard Kelly, who owns Concord Barbershop on North State Street, said his business has suffered from the North State Street construction.
“I guess I just want to warn the business owners downtown because I think they’re crazy,” Kelly said.
Some residents spoke in opposition to the project. Jim Baer told the committee he believes the project should not reduce parking and should not be done under poor economic conditions.
“When all of the smoke and mirrors clear, we find out that the real driving force of this project is money – yours and mine,” Baer said.
The city’s successful federal grant application was based on a 2011 “Re-Thinking Main Street” report by two nonprofit groups. That report, by now-defunct Concord 2020 and Main Street Concord, now called Intown Concord, was the starting point for the advisory committee’s work.
The council heard support for the project last night from Tonya Rochette, president of Intown Concord’s board of directors, as well as Tim Sink, president of the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce.
Residents last night also addressed the issue of accessibility on Main Street. Sheila Zakre, a Concord attorney who identified herself as legally blind, said she thinks the advisory committee should have included an adult with a disability.
Richard Cohen, executive director of the Disabilities Rights Center, said the committee’s recommendation about accessibility was too general. The committee discussed, but did not ultimately recommend, that all storefronts be made handicapped accessible during the project. Steps are currently required to enter some downtown businesses.
Cohen said accessible sidewalks and storefronts would contribute to the city’s goal of creating a “complete street.”
“It also addressees an obligation on the part of many merchants,” he said, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Disabilities Rights Center filed a lawsuit last year asking that Phenix Hall on North Main Street be made handicapped accessible. Mark Ciborowski, whose family owns the building, was a member of the advisory committee and abstained on votes regarding accessibility issues.
Several residents spoke about downtown parking, an issue that the advisory committee debated at length. Bouley said the city will look at both short-term and long-term ways to address parking as the project moves forward.
At-large City Councilor Dan St. Hilaire, who was a member of the advisory committee, assured the city council that the committee’s work was thorough and that the city staff members like Roberge understand the committee’s recommendations.
“I think they got a sense for what the community wants out of this project,” St. Hilaire said.