Concord City Council revisits Main Street project parking debate
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.