2017-07-13 / Front Page

Parking lot plan finally may be decided

Council expected to vote Monday night on much-discussed East Ferry issue

When Town Administrator Andy Nota introduced plans in February to redesign the East Ferry parking lot, he said there would be a construction hiatus to accommodate visitors during the tourist season.

As the year edges toward mid-summer, however, not only has construction not broken ground, a plan has yet to be approved. Town Planner Lisa Bryer hopes that will change soon.

During their July 5 meeting, the planning commissioners approved a layout Bryer called “a hybrid” of the two schemes being considered. The board is expected to recommend that plan to the councilors at their meeting Monday night.

“I think we’ll be relieved to get this off our desk and to the council,” said Mike Swistak, chairman of the planning board.

While the first scheme is an identical layout but with improvements to the curbs and pavement, the second proposal would create a park along the waterfront. To do this, the parking spaces would have to be moved west from the water toward the street. Moreover, the grassy area where the Christmas tree is displayed along Conanicus Avenue would be moved toward the harbor.

Although the councilors voted on the second scheme in February, the planning commission subsequently heard from concerned business owners during the course of four meetings. Representatives from Conanicut Marine Services, Spinnakers Cafe and Grapes & Gourmet have indicated a preference for the status quo. Bill Munger, owner of the East Ferry marina, said the layout is a time-tested one. Having a functional parking lot is more important than a revitalized park, he said, especially since the busy season for foot traffic is only about 12 weeks.

“Today’s footprint works,” Munger said. “We’ve been tweaking this for some years to get the parking right.”

The planning commissioners heeded concerns about moving the park toward the waterfront.

“We’re not going to make the tree go away,” Swistak said. “We hear you loud and clear. We’re not going to mess with Christmas trees.”

While that triangular area will remain along the street, the hybrid plan does include waterfront improvements, according to Bryer. The walkway along the harbor will be extended 4 feet into the parking lot, making room for plantings and benches looking toward the water. Although there was concern about the flow of traffic being narrowed from 28 to 24 feet, Bryer said that’s plenty of room for vehicles to maneuver. Also, with visitors sitting along the water, concrete parking blocks and fencing will separate the pedestrian section from the parking space, she said.

There also will be an added parking space. While the business owners were against a reduction in the 46 spaces, this hybrid plan adds a 47th spot reserved for compact electric vehicles.

Hali Beckman, a landscape architect based in town, designed the schemes. The cost is estimated at $300,000. The town received $65,000 for the project from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation in May. That grant will subsidize the landscaping, crosswalks, stone benches and paving.

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