Town pursues parking at GAR
$80,000 to be sought for feasibility study
PETERBOROUGH — After weighing input from a public hearing on parking options in downtown Peterborough, the Select Board decided Tuesday to push ahead with a plan that could lead to a parking lot behind the GAR Hall on Grove Street.
The board plans to ask voters in May to approve up to $80,000 for an assessment of the land behind the GAR Hall where a lot would be located. The area is close to the Contoocook River, and Public Works Director Rodney Bartlett told the board the first step in an evaluation, if voters approve the money, would be to determine if any environmental or flood-plain issues would prevent a lot from being built there. He said that part of the assessment would probably cost about $10,000 and, if the land was found to be unsuitable, the rest of the appropriation would not be spent.
The town has an agreement to sell the GAR Hall, which has been vacant in recent years, for $172,000 to Peterborough businessmen Cy Gregg and Stan Fry. Gregg and Fry hope to renovate the building for use as a function hall, but that would require additional parking, so the sale is contingent on the town building a parking lot on the land behind the building. It is also contingent on the town building a footbridge over the Nubanusit River to link the lot to the Depot Square area, where Gregg and Fry own several buildings.
At the Feb. 24 public hearing on parking options, town officials said the footbridge would cost $100,000. Estimates of the cost of building a lot were $340,000 for a 20-space lot, $630,000 for a 40-space lot, and $920,000 for a 60-space lot. The size of the lot might be determined by how much of the land, which includes a parcel that Gregg and Fry have an agreement to buy from The Petersons, Inc., the real-estate firm located next door to the GAR Hal, is suitable for building.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Select Board Chair Joe Byk said feedback from the public hearing showed “overwhelming support” of the option to build a lot behind the GAR Hall. Other options, including building a parking garage either at the municipal lot on Depot Street, on the Guernsey Green behind the Town House, or behind the buildings at 35/45 Main Street, were seen as very expensive on a cost-per-space basis, and Byk said they drew far less support.
Town officials have said the lot could be used by both people who work downtown during the week and by shoppers visiting downtown businesses. Having more long-term parking might free space in the municipal lot on Depot Street that is heavily used by people who park all day during the week. Changes in time limits and ways to encourage all-day parking at the underutilized town lots on Summer Street by the Fire Station or at the library were also discussed at the public hearing on parking. Byk said the concept of reusing existing space was the second most-favored option, after the GAR Hall lot, of those who filled out response forms at or after the hearing on Feb. 24. But the board has not announced plans to consider changing any of the downtown parking time limits for existing spaces.
At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, resident Debby Kaiser asked if flood plain issues or other environmental concerns could prevent a lot from being built behind the GAR Hall.
“I don’t want to spend $80,000 of taxpayers money if [the Department of Environmental Services] would throw huge obstacles in our way,” Kaiser said. “Let’s see first if this is really feasible.”
Bartlett said those questions could be addressed as the first stage of the assessment.
Other issues to be studied would include how to provide access to the site, which is considerably lower in elevation than Grove Street, which is where cars would enter the lot.
The board will determine at an upcoming meeting whether the funding request will be a separate warrant article at Town Meeting or if the money will be included in the proposed operating budget. Bartlett said the money is expected to come from revenues generated by the Downtown Tax Increment Finance District, which collects additional tax revenue generated by upgrades to downtown buildings and can be used, with voter approval, to fund infrastructure improvements the neighborhood.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.