2017-07-20 / Front Page

East Ferry parking lot gets green light

Plan addresses some concerns of business owners in the area
BY TIM RIEL

Rehabilitating the East Ferry parking lot has taken the next step following the town’s unanimous approval Monday night of a “hybrid plan” that enhances green space while maintaining the traffic circulation.

“It’s been a thorough and comprehensive process,” Town Planner Lisa Bryer said. “It’ll be a really nice amenity for the public.”

The design, conceived by landscape architect Hali Beckman, leaves the triangular green park, which hosts the Christmas tree in December, along Conanicus Avenue.

When the process began in February, the administration unveiled plans to move that park toward the waterfront. Although the town councilors initially gave the shuffled layout their blessing, four subsequent planning meetings exposed concern from Ferry Wharf businessmen who didn’t want the traffic flow to change. Bill Munger, president of Conanicut Marine Services, led the charge through petitions. Although he wasn’t entirely pleased with the plan that passed Monday, he did acknowledge the town’s willingness to compromise.

“I’m really thrilled the existing circulation has been maintained,” he said.

The first change that garnered opposition was narrowing the exit lane by 4 feet. To accommodate a narrow stretch of grass with benches along the water, the width from curb-to-curb was narrowed from 64 feet to 60 feet. The parking spaces on each side extend 18 feet into the lane, which leaves the aisle width at 24 feet. The zoning ordinance requires 23 feet for two-way traffic; the parking lot is only one-way.

Opponents said commercial trucks and SUVs with kayaks or bicycle racks would have trouble maneuvering in the area, but Councilwoman Mary Meagher, an architect, said designing parking lots for oversized vehicles isn’t an efficient way to design.

“If you can’t park your truck there, you’re going to have to find somewhere else to park it,” she said.

Town Administrator Andy Nota said 60 feet would be the minimum amount of space from curb-to-curb. Ideally, workers will try to be as close to 64 feet as possible.

“We’re going to pinch it,” he said. “We want to get as much out of the property as we can.”

Another change that drew criticism was the lack of walkways leading from cars to the stores, which could be dangerous for small children exiting vehicles. Council President Kristine Trocki, however, said these concerns were insincere.

“Making arguments that are based on emotional grabs are disingenuous,” she said. “Suggesting this is unsafe is inaccurate and unfair.”

The chief planners of the project agreed. “We wouldn’t be proposing this if we thought it was unsafe,” Bryer said.

“There isn’t a sidewalk in every parking lot in America,” Town Engineer Mike Gray said. “People walk through parking lots.”

Finally, Trocki was concerned about the proposed lack of accessibility on the triangular green space. Beckman planned to plant native grass that grows about 14 inches high there, which would make that park off limits for pedestrians. Instead, a retaining wall would be installed for sitting. Councilman Blake Dickinson questioned the contradiction of making the area more inviting to foot traffic by eliminating the biggest park.

“I thought the goal was to preserve space for people,” he said.

Nota, however, said the green space is the same. “The square footage is similar,” he said. “It’s just planted differently.”

Gray pointed to the park as it stands today. He said having it accessible and used by thousands of pedestrians is a maintenance challenge.

“The triangle right now is beaten-down weeds and dirt,” he said. “The intent of this plan is to funnel people to the paths. If you allow people to continue to trample, you are not going to maintain any plant life with that amount of traffic.”

The councilors ultimately moved the plan forward, but with three suggestions: n Widen the 60-foot curb width. n Increase access points to the sidewalks. n Make the triangle accessible.

“I hope people will go down there to enjoy their ice cream cones and watch the ferries come in and out,” Trocki said.

According to Nota, no further tax dollars will be needed to finance the project, which is estimated to cost $300,000. Along with a $65,000 state grant for landscaping, crosswalks, stone benches and paving, there is $270,000 in the waterfront reserve from the three marina leases to pay the balance of the cost.

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