Property owners should not be burdened with the responsibility of public parking

In a letter to the editor, Steve Farina writes, "Town planning and implementation has now significantly reduced both the number of publicly available parking spots and the duration for which a vehicle is allowed to remain parked in many of the remaining spots."

To the editor:

The following are a few direct quotes from the oft referenced Community Master Plan, Vol 2 found between pages 120 and 123. The boldface and italics are in the original and are not my emphasis but the town’s.

Downtown Parking

Parking is considered a problem in downtown Great Barrington, where thousands of vehicles converge daily and nightly. The parking challenge has been abiding theme in Great Barrington for decades. The 1973 and 1997 Master Plans both discussed parking supply issues and made several recommendations. Few have been implemented. 

Great Barrington’s parking is primarily behind buildings, off of Main Street. To the extent new parking lots can be found, this pattern should be replicated.

Today, approximately 1,000 parking spaces exist in downtown (800 off-street spaces in public and private lots, and 200 on-street spaces). As the 2012 Parking Task Force commissioned by the Board of Selectmen discovered, only 200 off-street spaces are public spaces, available for anyone. The other 600 off-street spaces are private and reserved by employers for their employees and customers. The Main Street Reconstruction will reduce the number of on-street spaces by 26 (20 of which are north of Elm Street). Figure 58 shows parking areas in downtown. [the figure is not included in this article]

There are few, if any, options for new parking lots in downtown.

With limited parking supply, convenient “prime” spaces must be available for shoppers and tourists, and not used for employees. The Downtown Parking Task Force has taken an important step with business owners, working with them to purchase remote parking spaces for themselves and for their employees, leaving prime on-street spaces for shoppers. The Task Force work should be continued and supported by the town with staff and resources such as signage, whenever possible.

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I don’t think I need to add anything to that, but for those who know me, I will anyway. Figure 58 of the master plan shows the available parking in downtown as of 2012. As noted, there was a loss of parking as a result of the Main Street reconstruction. The town recently published its 2020 parking map, which glaringly shows the result of additional road construction projects and altered parking restrictions. Town planning and implementation has now significantly reduced both the number of publicly available parking spots and the duration for which a vehicle is allowed to remain parked in many of the remaining spots. 

The burden of providing parking for employees is the responsibility of a property/business owner. They should not be burdened with the responsibility of public parking. If they choose to close access to the public, that is their prerogative.

As the case of 47 Railroad Street keeps coming up in conversation, I will briefly address it. The “dirt lot” that is currently under lease by 47RR is in fact private property. For over 25 years, property taxes on this highly assessed parcel (three parcels make up 87RR) were paid with nothing of value gained in return. Instead, there was wear and tear on the property from people using it as a public lot and in fact even a lawsuit by someone who slipped on the property. Due to the circumstances of another business’ investment in downtown, the property owner of 87RR is able to realize a financial benefit.

Private property ownership and free enterprise are cornerstones of our way of life. If an owner chooses not to carry the liability for public parking, that should not be detrimental to their ability to get a permit. If they choose to continue to allow the public parking, then the town would do well to be grateful.

Finally, on the issue of the School Street property in question, for those concerned about the loss of that “beautiful and architecturally rich building” (sarcasm), maybe someone can make an offer to move it a few hundred yards to 100 Bridge St. I hear that property is desperate for any kind of business to locate there — then downtown might even find someone else to privately own and operate a laundromat. Come to think of it, why doesn’t the town acquire a portion of 100 Bridge St. via eminent domain and convert it into a public parking lot? The property is mostly paid for with tax dollars anyway.

Steve Farina
Great Barrington