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Main Street committee finalizes two-lane proposal

Concord’s Main Street redesign could include parallel parking on one side of the street – but only if the loss of total parking spaces is limited, the city’s Main Street advisory committee agreed last night.

The 17-member committee recommended to the Concord City Council that the design not eliminate more than five parking spaces in addition to the spaces that would already be lost to comply with safety and accessibility codes between Pleasant and Centre streets.

The recommendation recognizes “the tension between wanting to have a transformational project and a very, very valid concern about parking,” said Concord developer and committee Chairman Steve Duprey.

City Engineer Ed Roberge has told the committee that the loss to achieve compliance would be about 16 spaces, and the committee agreed that a loss of five additional spaces – or 21 total spaces – would be acceptable.

Several committee members said they would prefer to have no net loss of parking, but also wanted to significantly widen sidewalks.

When asked if the parking restrictions would allow the city to still achieve wide sidewalks and parallel parking on one side of the street, Roberge asked the committee to trust him.

“The brain trust of our design team can put together a lasting incredible location here,” Roberge said. “So I think we can do that.”

The committee report suggests that Concord’s Main Street have two travel lanes with a crossable median between 4 and 6 feet in width. Cars and bicycles would share each of the 15-foot-wide lanes, with arrows painted on the pavement reminding motorists where cyclists will travel.

Although the committee finalized its report to the mayor and city council last night, the Main Street plan is not yet final because the committee’s role is strictly advisory. The Concord City Council has final authority over the design and will hold a Nov. 26 hearing on the report.

The project’s schedule is dictated in part by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which awarded the city a $4.71 million grant to redesign 12 blocks of Main Street. Construction on the $7.85 million project will begin next September and should be complete by 2015.

Committee member Jay Surdukowski offered a different parking recommendation last night that would have asked the city council to prioritize parking. He asked that parallel parking be considered only if it would not result in losing more than the number of spaces that would be lost with angled parking.

“I think we should set as a value: If we can maintain parking, we should,” Surdukowski said.

But Surdukowski’s idea failed with a 10-7 vote by the committee. The committee then agreed to accept a loss of five parking spaces more than the 16 that would already be lost to achieve compliance.

“My tolerance is no more than five – I’m queasy at that,” committee member Will Delker said.

Only two committee members – Ward 4 City Councilor Amanda Grady Sexton and downtown property owner Mark Ciborowski – voted against a recommendation for parallel parking if it would come with a loss of five additional spaces.

“I agree with flexibility but I don’t agree with the word ‘preferably’ parallel parking,” Ciborowski said.

In its report, the Main Street committee asks the city to develop a parking plan for the downtown area. Suggestions include tiered price structures and time limits to encourage use of parking garages.

The committee chose general recommendations to improve accessibility on Main Street, asking only that the project meet the Americans with Disabilities Act and “strive to be a model for New Hampshire and the region.”

Committee member Betsy McNamara, who has been an advocate for residents with disabilities, said she would like to recommend that storefronts be made accessible when possible.

The committee voted against that addition after Duprey said he worried a more specific recommendation could make the committee report an exhibit in pending litigation about accessibility to downtown buildings. Ciborowski is currently facing a lawsuit filed by the Disabilties Rights Center over accessibility at his Phenix Hall building; he abstained from votes on accessibility last night.

The committee, which has been meeting twice weekly since the end of September, also recommended:

∎ Heating the sidewalks and – if possible – the roadway with Concord Steam heat.

∎ Improving pedestrian safety with visible crosswalks and lighting.

∎ Adding “way-finding signage” around the downtown area to direct visitors to parking garages and landmarks.

∎ Hiring a marketing firm to “educate Concord and area citizens that Main Street will be open and the parking on Main Street will be available” during construction.

∎ Adding design elements such as public art and landscaping that would bring bold changes to the streetscape appearance.

The committee recommended applying for tax credits and grants to fund the $1.57 million portion of the project that must be funded privately. But even if the city receives tax credits, they may not cover the full amount. The committee recommended using a special assessment district to cover the remaining cost. Downtown property owners within the district would be charged an annual rate to pay off the debt over 20 years.

The committee suggested the city consider – not necessarily create – a business improvement district, under which property owners would pay annual rates for the cost of ongoing services that only benefit the downtown area.

If the recommendation is accepted by the city council, last night was not the final meeting of the Downtown Complete Streets Improvement Project Advisory Committee. The group would like to consult with designers and officials as the project design moves forward.

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or lmccrystal@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @lmccrystal.)

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