Blake Block Question Reveals Larger Parking Issues

The Planning Board and attorney Pam Brown listen to a comment from the audience
Planning Board members and attorney Pam Brown listen to a comment from an interested resident

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Attorney Pam Brown—representing Bruce and Dottie Blake, owners of 62-88 The Great Road—came before the Planning Board on April 25 to request permission to claim four additional parking spaces in the Common area at the center of town in order to accommodate the needs of a fourth, “healthy eating,” restaurant that is interested in opening in the Blake Block. While Brown ultimately gained approval to move ahead, the discussion that transpired highlighted a parking problem that, according to some, already exists in the center of town area—regardless of whether or not additional parking is needed to serve the yet-to-open Blake Block businesses.

To frame the issue, Brown said that a “healthy-eating” restaurant would like to lease the single storefront on the corner of Fletcher Road, half of the space formerly considered by the Koko Fit Club, which has withdrawn its interest in the location. With the addition of this fourth restaurant, using the Town’s agreed-upon zoning calculus, the total number of parking spaces required to accommodate the Blake Block residents, business employees and patrons now comes to 72. This represents four more spaces than previously counted for the building.

Brown noted the large number of spaces across the street and around the Common, as well as  in the municipal lots near Town Hall, and emphasized that there are many more spaces than needed close at hand that more than make up the deficit of four.

The center of town, according to Brown, is very walkable and attracts patrons who are biking or on foot, rather than only those driving a car. Brown asked the Planning Board if –after counting the entire number of available parking spaces in the area—it would agree that parking is adequate to serve the Blake Block’s needs as well as the needs of other nearby buildings. She asked for what is called “a minor amendment to the special permit” that has already been granted for the site.

“We’re really only looking to fill a gap of a couple of spaces from our [previously] calculated demand,” Brown said. “My purpose here was to show you that within a [short] distance, we have hundreds of parking spaces within an easy couple of blocks’ walk. I’m not sure we’ll ever need them, but we are in a village center and it makes absolute sense that people—if they weren’t walking already—might [expect] to walk [a short distance from their car to the store or restaurant.] “

In response, Planning Board member Shawn Hanegan asked, “I’m curious. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that you had an overflow situation. Why wouldn’t people just park on Fletcher instead of parking either down on Elm or Maple or Mudge Way and walking all that way?”

Planning Board member Amy Lloyd agreed. “Unless people are expressly forbidden to do something, they’re going to do it. If people turn onto Fletcher, turn into the lot [behind the Blake Block], do a turn around the lot and determine there are no spaces, their immediate reaction is going to be to come right back out onto Fletcher, take a right and find the first space they can. I have concerns about the first two or three houses on Fletcher and how that might impact them. I find this a very difficult call [to make]. We’re starved for places to eat in town. . . .”

“This is not really about the poor guy who wants to open this restaurant,” Brown responded. “It’s a re-visitation about what’s going to happen [once the Blake Block is fully occupied and open for business]. We really don’t know.”

Planning Board Chair Jeff Cohen agreed that it is hard to predict what will happen and that the parking space calculations are “not an exact science.”

The meeting room was nearly full
The meeting room was nearly full

Fletcher Road residents, themselves, then expressed concerns about how a fully-operating Blake Block would affect their street.

Resident Lee Vorderer said, “I don’t care about one or two cars. Our street is parked like a parking lot [only] one or two days a year and none of us care: we figure out a way to cope with it. But I am concerned about the impact of this development on Fletcher Road. We don’t know what’s going to happen. . . .We don’t know what it’s going to feel like when everybody’s fully occupied and living in the condos and working their businesses. We may have a whole lot more traffic; we may have none to speak of. We have no way of knowing. I’m worried about a decision that gets made that’s informed by no information because [the information] doesn’t exist. My street is going to become a thoroughfare—it already has cars going very fast, very often. What recourse do we have [if the problem is bad]? “

Dick Davidson of Fletcher Road said that the street was already a public safety problem. “It’s a cut-through from Great Road to Page Road. There are people speeding all the time. We’ve had the police there several times to monitor the situation. We have a lot of kids on the street now; it could be a serious problem. I almost got hit today because of a parked car on Fletcher Road. That corner [from Fletcher to Great Road] is going to be a nightmare. . . . The overflow [from the Blake Block] is going to go onto Fletcher Road, there are no two ways about it.”

Other residents agreed that there are visibility issues due to parked cars that pose safety concerns for children.  Thoughts about making the street a “no parking zone” didn’t sit well, though, as residents wanted to have parking available for guests visiting their homes.

Susan Sepe, another Fletcher Street resident with young children, described the already present danger, even before the Blake Block is fully-functioning. “Cars fly down that road in the morning and in the evening after work. One restaurant is open, maybe one or two condos are [occupied], both sides of Great Road [parking] are [used up], [and] the whole back parking lot is full. There are three more restaurants coming in; all the residents aren’t in yet, plus all the other stores. There will be an issue. [Drivers] won’t [be able to] find the Town Center [municipal parking] with all the one way streets.”

Ben Littauer, another resident agreed it was unrealistic to expect Blake Block patrons to park in the municipal lot. “Most people don’t know about the cut-through. And the fact is that during the construction, Fletcher Road was covered with cars associated with the construction. It’s at best unrealistic to say people won’t park there.”

Selectman Bill Moonan, also present at the meeting, raised the issue of parking availability for functions at the Old Town Hall, across the street from the Common on South Road. “There is a problem and it’s not just this one restaurant that’s creating it. It’s [already] overwhelming.”

Shared parking arrangements with Sovereign Bank at Springs Road, or Right at Home at the corner of Fletcher, were discussed; however, the peak demand lunch hour time-frame is a time when those businesses are open and themselves in need of parking spaces.

Ultimately, Brown was given approval to move ahead with the fourth restaurant tenant on the condition that the applicant provide reports on peak-time parking usage. This will require a physical count during a lunch hour once a week for a year, submitted quarterly, to determine whether the available parking is adequate to satisfy demand. In the meantime, other solutions such as signage to direct drivers to the municipal lots, as well as requesting employees to park away from the block, will be considered.

“Data is everybody’s friend,” said Planning Board member Amy Lloyd, referring to the required weekly peak hour parking analysis. “It’s in [the client’s] best interest to start now keeping track so that you can say, if the numbers go your way, ‘Here is the data that shows that it’s been consistent.’ If in fact there is an increase, you will [at least] be able to show that no one is going by feelings or perceptions.”

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Mary Mady
Mary Mady
9 years ago

Kim, you are to be complimented on this comprehensive and well written article. It was almost like being there and did really cover the issues.

Janet Powers
Janet Powers
9 years ago

Fletcher Road is a beautiful boulevard like road with trees and stately homes. It is understandable why the residents are concerned. Unfortunately that wide straight design is the primary reason cars are able to speed–it is just far too easy drive fast. I would like to offer a bit of information, having cars parked along the edge of the street may reduce issues with speed. Studies have shown that cars drive more slowly on streets lined with parked cars.

Now I realize parked cars are not the most attractive and will bring more people onto your street, but it might just help with what I, as a parent, would consider the greater issue and that is safety and speed.

I am glad to hear folks are going to monitor this carefully.

Thomas McDonald
9 years ago

It sounds perfectly reasonable. I hate to see permits denied for such a minor issue. People will park on Fletcher even if there is space behind the building.

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