Plenty of parking on a summer Sunday early morning
The three Downtown Parking Forums held over the past year have been summarized in a comprehensive Downtown Parking Report by senior planner Jeff Bagg. The Amherst Planning Board received a copy on Friday and it will be presented tonight at the Amherst Select Board meeting by John Musante during his packed "Town Manager's Report."
Simply put the 68 page document highly recommends two things: start the process for ascertaining the need and feasibility of constructing a new downtown parking structure; and come up with strategies and regulations for more efficient use of current parking -- both public and private.
The downtown now has a total of 2,019 parking spaces but 1,159 of them, a whopping 57%, are private. If the town could strike a deal with private landowners it would increase utilization rates of parking overall, and with the town taking over maintenance and enforcement duties on those parking spots private owners would have one less thing to worry about.
Yes, a 2008 study by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission decreed, "current parking supply in the downtown area sufficiently meets the current parking demand." Since that study seven years ago the Amherst Cinema has become a downtown anchor, new restaurants have opened and the Jones Library (our other downtown anchor) may double in size.
And that study did find that some highly desirable downtown public parking locations "meet or exceed 100% utilization."
More important the number of residential units in the downtown will grow 36%, from the current 330 units to 550, when Kendrick Place and One East Pleasant Street five-story, mixed-use developments come on line.
Kendrick Place opening soon with 36 units housing 104 tenants
The Parking Report does suggest that perhaps the Planning Board and Select Board should consider tweaking the Municipal Parking District which currently exempts mixed-use buildings from a parking requirement.
While the town needs to do another updated parking study this Parking Final Report recommends laying the groundwork for a new parking facility and increasing overall efficiency of the current parking system should start immediately.
In fact, by virtue of this comprehensive report, it already has.
The 5 member Select Board as "keepers of the public way" have final say over simple parking tweaks, but Town Meeting controls the purse strings.
Any expenditures to enhance the downtown requires Town Meeting approval. More ominously, any zoning change would require a two-thirds majority vote of Town Meeting. And the current preferred location for a parking structure (behind CVS) does require a zoning change.
CVS & town parking lot next door