2017-04-27 / Front Page

Planning board against redesign of parking lot

BY RYAN GIBBS

A design overhaul of the East Ferry parking lot, which garnered support from the town council in February, informally was rejected last week by the planning commissioners.

Three proposals were presented during the April 19 meeting. Although no vote was taken, all six commissioners recommended dismissing the plan that would move the triangular park, which is best known for housing the Christmas tree, toward the waterfront. That rebuffed plan, which unanimously was approved by the councilors, would move the parking spots toward the road to accommodate the park’s relocation to the seawall.

Instead, the commission suggested creating a refined layout that would keep the design similar to the current arrangement, with the park along Conanicus Avenue.

The administration presented two schemes echoing that notion. One of those options, the “existing enhancement” plan, would keep the layout virtually identical but with renovations. The other scheme had the waterfront sidewalk separated from the parking lot by a wall of shrubbery, but this design would lose one of the lot’s 46 parking spaces.

Commissioner Duncan Pendlebury liked the layout overhaul because it attracted pedestrians to the waterfront. However, he was worried it didn’t address the flow of traffic.

“The backing up bothers me,” he said. “I’m always worried about little children running out. I realize we haven’t had a disaster, but we need to do everything we can to make sure we don’t. I just can’t support that long backup.”

Commissioner Bernie Pfeiffer agreed that safety was an issue in the congested lot.

“Issues like parking are a major focal point for the town. No matter when you go down there, there’s something going on,” he said.

Commissioner Michael Smith, who said all three plans need work, questioned the distance from the curbs.

“I don’t think we should be building things that are making turning radiuses tighter than they used to be,” he said.

The plans were designed by Jamestown landscape architect Hali Beckman, along with Town Engineer Mike Gray and Town Planner Lisa Bryer. According to Bryer, the parking spaces in all the plans were the standard size, adding up to 60 feet curb to curb. Smith asked if the plans indicated fewer feet than the existing lot. Gray did not know, but Bryer said she believed they were the same.

“Not by these drawings,” Smith replied. “I’d like the distance from here to here to be as much as it can. If it requires moving this sidewalk over another 5 feet, then I’ll have to do that.”

Town Administrator Andy Nota said the meeting wasn’t intended to debate the size of the spaces at this stage in the planning process, but Smith thought the discussion was a priority.

“When we get all done, I don’t want the same situation that happened with Narragansett Avenue, where the width was reduced so it’s a one-way street,” he said.

In order to keep the current number of parking spaces, Pendlebury said traffic flow would be a problem no matter which scheme was picked.

“The only way out is to back out, and someone’s invariably parked in the fire lane, so you got to turn and back your way out,” he said.

“That’s a problem today,” Bryer replied. “Once that issue was brought to us at the traffic committee, we realized that even if we keep the scheme the same, we might be losing a parking space in there. It just makes sense that you do need some place to turn around when you get in there.”

Two Ferry Wharf business owners, Bill Munger and Mike Ridge, said parking needs to be the foremost concern.

“I’m opposed to losing any parking spaces anywhere downtown,” said Ridge, owner of Spinnakers Cafe.

“Being nice outdoors here in Jamestown is really only about 12 weeks,” added Munger, owner of Conanicut Marine and a member of the traffic committee. “It’s pretty short. I think we can make it look good, but absolutely foremost, it needs to be functional.”

Munger also cautioned the town not to mess with a layout that currently works.

“It’s a busy area,” he said. “Today’s footprint, it all works. Touch-and-go spots work, the loading spots work. It’s got the right configuration of long-term and short-term parking. We’ve been tweaking this for some years to get the parking right.”

Regardless of the layout that’s ultimately selected, the lot needs to be repaved, Gray said, because it hasn’t been repaired since the 1960s. Work also would be done on the curbing and sidewalks, landscaping the park and improving drainage, he said. The project’s cost is estimated at $300,000, which would be financed through the town’s waterfront reserve and a supplemental grant from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation.

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