Amherst council votes to cut Town Hall parking

  • Amherst Town Hall GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 3/24/2021 10:17:16 AM

AMHERST — A project to refurbish the North Common in front of Town Hall through extensive landscaping is moving forward this spring, even though this will mean a sizable reduction in parking spaces available to downtown visitors.

As part of a $1.44 million overhaul of the site that features two flagpoles, the Merry Maple tree and the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union fountain, the Town Council voted 8-5 Monday in favor of the Department of Public Works plan to replace the 34-space Main Street parking lot with grass, trees and a paved plaza.

People coming to downtown Amherst should be able to see the historic Town Hall without their view being screened by so many parked vehicles, said District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam.

At-Large Councilor Andy Steinberg, in his support for the plan, said it was about making the right decision for the long term.

They were joined in approving the project by Council President Lynn Griesemer, District 4 Councilors Evan Ross and Steve Schreiber, District 3 Councilor George Ryan and District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne.

But giving the go-ahead for the project means the spaces in the vicinity of Town Hall will be reduced from the 48 currently there, including 34 in the Main Street lot, to just 14 spaces. Five of the spaces in the Main Street lot were already going to be lost through a resurfacing project.

The town will make up some of the lost spaces by creating seven new angled spots on Main Street between South Pleasant Street and Boltwood Avenue, and by adding six new parallel spots on Boltwood Avenue, which will be one-way between Main and Spring streets. That will leave the area with a total of 27 spaces.

District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz said that although the project enhances a neglected area, it will also be making people less welcome when Town Hall reopens to the public following the COVOD-19 pandemic, and could impact businesses such as Russell’s Liquors, with patrons instead going to other package stores that have their own parking lots.

Swartz observed that just a few hundred feet east on Main Street is Sweetser Park, where people can sit on benches near the Enos Cook Memorial Fountain.

At-Large Councilor Alisa Brewer said some parking remaining on the North Common should not be seen as detrimental, and she is concerned that her fellow councilors are taking the loss of parking lightly.

“It is, in fact, a very big deal,” Brewer said.

Others voting against the plan included District 1 Councilor Cathy Schoen, District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis and District 5 Councilor Darcy DuMont.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring said he believes the project can be done on time and on budget.

Mooring explained that Boltwood Avenue becoming one direction of travel will mean more parking and have less impact on the greenspace.

“The most parking you can have there works best with one-way,” Mooring said.

Amherst Business Improvement District Executive Director Gabrielle Gould said a survey of businesses near the North Common, along Main, Amity, South Pleasant and North Pleasant streets, and on Boltwood Walk, advocated for some parking to remain in the Main Street lot.

She said it is unfortunate that a Destination Amherst plan unveiled in early 2020, which would have included a second parking garage to be built downtown, couldn’t coincide with the North Common renovations due to the pandemic.

Using the Downtown Amherst Foundation, the Amherst BID had hoped to be able to offer to cover the costs of constructing a new parking garage on the town-owned lot between North Pleasant and North prospect streets. Instead, the foundation’s money went to providing grants to businesses struggling during the pandemic.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.

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