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Whately weighs adding more parking in town center

— With rows of maple trees narrowing the sidewalks along Chestnut Plain Road and cars from the Whately Inn and library events overflowing into the Whately Town Hall parking lot, the town has proposed a study to create additional parking spaces in the center of town.

The town is seeking assistance from the 2013 Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Program to complete the study. The program — run by the state Department of Housing and Community Development — offers money to communities seeking help on how to revitalize their downtowns.

The purpose of the town’s application is to receive assistance to guide the town in how best to provide parking and pedestrian traffic for the downtown area.

“Presently, the town of Whately is in the process of making critical decisions regarding our town buildings that will greatly affect our downtown,” Town Administrator Lynn Sibley said. “The successful completion of this parking study will enable the town to envision the future growth and accessibility of this critical area of Whately.” The plan would also be able to make the town’s narrow sidewalks more accessible to connect parking areas and buildings.

The downtown center is a ½-mile section on Chestnut Plain Road made up of the town hall, Whately Post Office, Smikes House or senior housing, S. White Dickinson Library, Center School office building, the Whately Inn, the Center Cemetery, the Whately Congregational Church and many homes.

In making its proposal, the town hopes to maintain Whately’s rural character — identified by residents as the best part of living in Whately, according to a master plan update survey.

‘We need to find a way to keep this rural character while providing easier access to our downtown buildings,’ Sibley wrote in the application.

When the town updated its master plan in 2011, one recommendation for the town was to possibly reuse existing buildings in the town center for limited commercial use such as coffee shops or small retail shops. Marketing the center of town for commercial use remains a goal for the town as long as parking and pedestrian issues are addressed as well.

The town’s desire to create easier vehicle and pedestrian access coincides with the town office consolidation project, in which the town hired Margo Jones Architects of Greenfield to complete a town hall feasibility study. Currently, town offices are split between the town hall and the Center School offices. The Center School also houses the WhatelyHistorical Society.

While the town evaluated its options for combining offices in one building, it found that parking rose to the forefront as a main issue to be addressed. If the town decides to renovate the town hall and revitalize the existing 200 person capacity meeting hall on the second floor — an option most favored by the building committee and historical commission — additional parking will be needed to handle the functions that come along with a meeting hall.

Additional parking is also needed for the S. White Dickinson Library, where the library trustees have installed a gazebo in the back yard overlooking the valley. The gazebo is used for weddings and concerts for the public.

To guide the project, the selectmen would recommend appointing a parking advisory committee that would consist of nine representatives from the town, including a member from the Historical Society, a Whately Grange member, a representative of the Whately Inn and the highway superintendent.

However, despite the towns’s attempts to receive grant money, Sibley doubts the town can receive funding.

‘I’m not confident because our downtown is not really want they are looking for,’ Sibley said.

The annual program grants money to towns for seven different activities, including business development, streetscape design, economic development through green initiatives for businesses and restaurants and parking. To receive funding for parking, requests for assistance must address inventorying existing parking, an analysis of existing and future parking needs and a parking management plan.

Total state dollars a town can receive is $10,000. Based on the scope of work and other planning studies Whately has participated in, Sibley said the town should be able to complete the proposed study for less than $8,500.

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