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Concord City Council revisits Main Street project parking debate

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012.

(Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

North Main Street, Concord during Market Days; Thursday, July 19, 2012. (Alexander Cohn/ Monitor file)

The number of parking spaces on Concord’s redesigned Main Street is still up for debate.

At a work session last night, the city council asked the project design team to return with options for more parking spaces on North Main Street. City Manager Tom Aspell said they will present more parking options at the second work session tonight.

Mayor Jim Bouley suggested adding angled parking spaces along the west side of North Main Street, where proposed designs have parallel parking. He said that’s the area where the most parking spaces would be lost and where he’s heard the most concern from residents and business owners.

“I can’t accept personally going from 50 spaces down to 27 spaces,” Bouley said, speaking of the parking count on the west side of the street between Pleasant and Capitol streets. “But I’m only one vote,” he added.

A switch to angled parking in that area could add 10 more parking spaces – for a total loss of 13 spaces, said City Engineer Ed Roberge. But he said angled parking would reduce the sidewalks in that area from as wide as 20 feet to as narrow as 11 feet. The sidewalks on both sides of the street would lose width, he said, to keep a straight center line in the street. It would also make it difficult to fit trees, benches or bicycle racks in that area.

It could also become too difficult to eliminate the two steps in the curb, Roberge said.

“Are we opening ourselves up to litigation because we’re doing this project and we’re not making it compliant?” Councilor Michael DelloIacono asked.

Deputy City Manager for Development Carlos Baia said the design team can’t answer that question. But, he noted, the design process has included several meetings with public testimony about the importance of accessibility.

Johnathan Law, a landscape architect on the city’s design team, said the resulting sidewalk slope to switch to angled parking spaces and to make the street accessible “would look like we made a mistake, in my professional opinion.”

Councilor Jan McClure said she didn’t think it was appropriate to alter one section of the project simply to increase parking spaces, especially if it would look as Roberge suggested.

“We don’t want to defeat the purpose of making the downtown a place where people can walk and sit and talk,” McClure said.

The city council has weighed in on designs at some regularly scheduled meetings, but last night was the first time councilors made concrete changes to the plans. The city received a $4.71 million federal grant last year to redesign Main Street, from Storrs and North Main streets to Storrs and South Main streets. Designs are due to the federal government by mid-June.

Last night, some councilors questioned whether they should change the proposed designs, which were based on recommendations from an advisory committee that met last fall.

“This is our project to comment on,” Bouley told the councilors. “This is our project, the city council. It’s time to have our say as well.”

Other councilors said the council shouldn’t stray too far from the advisory committee’s recommendations. Councilor Dan St. Hilaire – one of three city councilors on that 17-member advisory committee – said that committee included business owners who voted to recommend a reduction in parking.

“So if we’re not going to try to stay in those parameters, then I wasted my time, and a lot of other people’s,” said Councilor Allen Bennett, who was also a member of the advisory committee.

Bouley said parking is only one piece of the project, which will include many other bold changes to Main Street.

“There’s so much change we’re talking about and . . . I’m not trying to run away in fear by any stretch of the imagination,” Bouley said. “I’m trying to minimize the risk of making sure we have the community buy in.”

Councilors agreed last night that they support the general street layout, with two 15-foot lanes and a 6-foot crossable center median. Cars and bicycles would share the wide lanes.

Streetlights and grates

Also last night, the council approved proposals for streetlights and grates for street trees. They debated whether the landscaped planter boxes should include small fences around them.

The design team said the short, black fences would stop people from walking through the plantings. But the council heard some criticism of that plan during a public hearing last week.

“It looks really like a grave, and it’s creepy,” Councilor Jennifer Kretovic said. “I don’t like it.”

The proposed plants are perennial ornamental grasses. Law, the landscape architect, said they would require minimal maintenance.

Work sessions will continue tonight at 7 and – if necessary – tomorrow. The council will hold a public hearing June 6 before voting on the final design.

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

Legacy Comments15

I think Concord ought to put this whole idea in a locked box for a few years. If they hastily go forward with this project, years from now people will be asking the same question they are now about the old Concord Train Station. Why?

Is there any federal funding available for decommissioning this proposed project in a few years or does that also come from 'private' sources? Maybe Nhdot can find some Congestion mitigation dollars

The Town of Belmont has recently redesigned their Main Street. Please take a look at how much parking they've lost and have replaced parking with pretty lampposts which no longer hang from the utility poles. Pretty yes, functional, no. The city of Laconia was redesigned years ago and it turned it into a ghost town, now a ghost town full of drugs. One can walk about safely from fast cars but not from the safety of junkies. My gut feeling is this can happen to Concord when the customers leave Main Street.

I think most people would rather not lose parking spaces in exchange for wider sidewalks. At one point the city was talking about doing a traffic study to determine the effects of reducing the lanes from four to two. What happened to the traffic study? The city appears to be plunging into this project underprepared... which could result in hurting, not helping, Main St. We don't want to spend all this time and money tearing up and shrinking Main St. parking and roadway, only to drive people and businesses away from downtown.

Nobody is going downtown to walk and sit and talk. Once the group gets that figured out they will be on the right path. More sitting places will only encourage the bums to linger and drive off folks with money to spend.You dont need a place to sit if you cant find a place to park.

20 foot sidewalks--really?

Thank you, Councilor McClure; you have put your finger on it: The council’s decision on this project unfortunately amounts to a choice between a downtown Concord “where people can walk and sit and talk” -- essentially a park/pedestrian mall -- or a downtown Concord where retail businesses and restaurants can survive.

Councilor Allen Bennett had it right. You all wasted your time.

I am - unusually for me - at a loss for words. These characters appear to have NO IDEA what they are doing or why. Unless the plan has metamorphosed since the last Monitor articles a few days ago, North Main Street is losing 2 lanes of traffic and over 20 parking spaces. For what? For 20-foot wide sidewalks? Which throngs of suddenly appearing shoppers and tourists are going to need such wide sidewalks? I believe Newbury Street in Boston has 12-foot sidewalks. Hell, I don't think even Manhattan's 47th Street has 20-foot sidewalks. I stand at the head of the line among believers in the good that governments can do which is why I find this utter waste of resources so utterly offensive.

Tip of the iceberg gracchus. It gets better according to the budget stats reported here by the CM. Your taxes will go up 3%. Parking is running a 213,00 deficit. Will have to increase Kiosk fees. Pay as you throw came up short by 263,000, so you will be paying more for purple bags. The cost of the Main Street project already increased by 2.5 million. We will have to double down on bonds. What a horrible time to be doing this. The taxpayers are about to get bled big time.e.

LOL...I just keep thinking about the urban renewal back in the 70's in Laconia. They made a park of the entire downtown area. Spent millions. People hated it. So they spent more to rip it all up and go back to what it was..almost. What we should do is ask our presidential candidates where they stand on the scheme. I know where mine would stand...how bout yours???

Other than Berlin and perhaps Lewiston, Maine, I can't think of a more depressing downtown than Laconia's. It isn't really in the purview of a presidential race, but any hopeful who walks through Laconia's business district and doesn't say to himself, "What a freakin' dump!" is a bit too unaware for me.

I was referring to Concords scheme.

If I was a Concord resident I might be asking a couple simple questions. How is it that mid-June is weeks away and the “team” does not even know what makes the plan compliant (legal)? I may have missed it but where is the last $1.57 million in “PRIVATE” sector money coming from?

You might be excused to have missed it: To my knowledge, the only way city officials have ever publicly proposed to answer that question was back when this project originally reared its beautiful head, when backers said the money would be raised through a FEE assessed against downtown property owners. It may be presumptuous of me, but I guess the feds were unimpressed by this ingenious attempt to make a public funding scheme fit into the definition of “private” funding. Since then, I believe the only reported source of actual private funds has been a generous six-figure offer from Steve Duprey, who apparently persists in the belief that his developments will benefit from the project. (He may be right, since his developments do not include retail, dining or entertainment.)

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