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Parking plans on the table

Conceptual projects, ranging in cost from $900K to $7 million, aired in public forum

  • Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.

    Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.

  • Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.

    Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.

  • Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.
  • Town officials discussed a variety of options to address Peterborough parking issues at a public hearing on Monday.

PETERBOROUGH — Do residents want to build a three-level garage downtown, at a cost between $7 million and $9 million, in order to provide more public parking? Or would a new lot on land behind the GAR Hall, which could add as many as 60 spaces for about $920,000, help alleviate a perceived parking shortage? Or is simply setting shorter time limits on existing municipal spaces and encouraging all-day parkers to use outlying town lots a simpler and far less costly choice?

Those are among the questions facing town officials, who have identified nine parking alternatives and are now looking for feedback on the best way to proceed.

“Our goal tonight is to provide context and give an overview,” said Community Development Director Pete Throop on Monday to residents who attended a public hearing about parking choices. “Many of these options are at a conceptual stage. Probably you won’t see any big decisions until Town Meeting in 2015 at the earliest. Our goal now is to narrow the options down.”

Throop said the downtown area now has 324 public parking spaces and 487 parking spaces.

Old lots, new lots, garages

The least costly options discussed at the hearing involved different ways to use current space. The long-term spaces in the Depot Street municipal lot and in Depot Square along the Contoocook River tend to fill up quickly during the week, while the new lot at the fire station or the lot at the town library, which are further away from downtown, are not as heavily used. Assistant Town Administrator Nicole MacStay said if all-day spaces were changed to short-term parking, the crunch could be alleviated.

Another option would be to have people park at the Community Center on Elm Street or at one of the shopping plazas and ride into town on a shuttle bus. The cost of a shuttle service is estimated to be about $100,000 annually.

Town officials have also done preliminary assessments for two potential new parking lots. At some point, the Fire Department is expected to outgrow its space on Summer Street. If the department moves, 32 parking spaces would become available, and if the fire station building is torn down, 24 additional spaces could be built. The estimated cost, including demolition of the station, is $338,000.

Another possible lot is behind the GAR Hall, which the town has agreed to sell for $172,000 to businessmen Cy Gregg and Stan Fry, with the sale contingent on the town building a parking lot on land behind the building along the Contoocook River. Director of Public Works Rodney Bartlett said the lot could hold between 20 and 60 spaces, depending on how much setback from the river is required.

The GAR Hall sale is also contingent on the town building a pedestrian bridge over the Nubanusit River to connect the lot to Depot Square. The total cost of the bridge and lot could range between $340,000 and $920,000, depending on how many spaces would be built.

Four locations for potential parking garages have also been identified.

∎ The municipal lot on Depot Street could hold a two-level structure, adding 40 spaces, at a cost of about $2.9 million.

∎  The property on Vine Street now owned by Divine Mercy Parish will be for sale when the church moves to a new building. It could be used as is for additional parking, but it has potential for a three-level parking garage with 240 new spaces. The total cost of a structure that size, including land acquisition, would be about $8.9 million.

∎  The green space at the Guernsey building off Phoenix Mill Lane, which is also privately owned, could serve as either an at-grade lot, which would accommodate 60 spaces, or for a three-level garage, holding 180 spaces. The estimated cost, including land purchase, would be $1.6 million for the at-grade lot or $7.3 million for the garage.

∎ The land at 35 Main St. and 45 Main St., behind People’s United Bank and the office building next to the bank, could also be a garage site. It’s privately owned and the town has no estimate on the cost to acquire the land, but it could hold a two-level garage with 212 new spaces. Cost to build the garage is estimated at $7.6 million.

Town Administrator Pam Brenner said if a parking garage were to be built, the town would most likely charge parking fees to offset some of the cost.

Initial reactions

Much of the feedback at the meeting centered on how current spaces are used.

Jay Purcell suggested changing the all-day parking in the downtown municipal spaces to a shorter period on weekends, which would help merchants on their busiest days without displacing workers who need long-term parking during the week.

“Before we think about building, we should make better use of the parking we have,” he said.

Toadstool Bookshop owner Willard Williams disagreed, saying people who work downtown regularly park all day in spaces that he owns.

“We need to get all those all-day workers into a remote location,” he said.

None of the parking garage proposals drew much favorable comment from the approximately 30 people in attendance at the meeting, most of whom identified themselves as Peterborough residents who frequently park in town.

“The Guernsey Green is the least attractive choice,” said Ivy Vann, who chairs the Peterborough Planning Board. “It’s a nice piece of green right in town. Once you pave it, you won’t ever get it back.”

“Where are you going to put the sheep when Greenerborough is no longer green?” asked another resident.

Several people said the Vine Street property was too far away to be a good site for a garage or even just an additional lot.

Kath Allen said the Main Street option behind the bank looked like the most logical choice if a garage is needed.

“It could be tucked away behind the buildings,” she said.

The GAR Hall plan, also known as Riverwalk because it is expected to have a green buffer alongside the river, drew mixed reaction.

“I think there’s great potential there,” said Williams. “A footbridge would extend the whole feeling of the [Depot Square] park.”

“It would be amazing to have a footbridge across the river, but not for a parking lot,” said Matt Waitkins. “There’s a ton of pavement out there that’s not being utilized.”

Next steps

Those at the hearing were asked to evaluate each of the nine options presented in terms of location, convenience, visual impact, cost and other factors. Brenner said town officials will be tabulating that data and results of an online parking survey that the town has been running, and will give that information to Select Board members at their meeting on Tuesday. She said the board may want to prepare a warrant article for this year’s Town Meeting to ask for seed money to more fully evaluate one or more of the alternative proposal. A vote on any major parking initiative would not happen until 2015, Brenner said.

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