Ward 3 and City Update November 17, 2015

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Making sense of the Inter-Modal Transit Facility

The City Council held a special meeting last night (11/17/15) in which the Mayor, Planning Director and City Auditor presented information regarding the parking garage; the so-called Inter-Modal Transit Facility (IMTF).  While I have to balance the requirements of Executive Session restrictions, I can however share some general information and use information already in the public domain.  I hope this puts some focus on this process.

The IMTF is based on two forms of transportation, in Newburyport’s case: buses and autos.  One concern voiced last evening was that of buses starting up in the early morning and idling etc.  At least this has a definitive answer: all buses will be garaged at the MVRTA barn in Haverhill.  THE IMTF will have a curb cut to service the loading and unloading of two buses, presumably the MVRTA bus that services the area and the commuter bus to Boston. Both presently operate on and through the Merrimac Street area so these are existing routes and not additional routes. No tour buses will be parked at the IMTF, they will continue to go where tour buses go.

FUNDING: The IMTF itself has several funding and possible funding sources.  The state provided $5M and the federal government $2M.  The price tag as of last night could reach as high as almost $16M.  The “gap”, the difference between the $7M and the $16M would be funded by the city.  This $9M gap could be funded from two sources, a $6M bond on parking revenues and a $3M general obligation city bond. The auditor stated this plan would not increase the tax rate.

SITING: The IMTF itself was to be oriented to face Merrimack Street, then flipped to face Titcomb Street and now reoriented back onto Merrimack Street.  This was a two-fold process, first it seemed more spaces could be gained from the Titcomb Street siting but that included taking of some properties.  These properties also have a contributing historical significance and are subject to protection.  Therefore the Titcomb Street option was removed from the table.  City Council never weighed in on this taking as the historical aspects of this option made it untenable.

OBJECTIVES: From the get-go, the goal has been to remove parking from the waterfront, make the central waterfront into more parkland and replicating that parking elsewhere.  The NRA lots have +/-379 spaces on the east and west lots.  While no hard number is available, by making parkland the goal is to remove and replicate about waterfront 150 spaces.  The remaining waterfront lots might be further reduced during reconfiguration and the like; but that is another whole topic. Meanwhile it is generally agreed that the IMTF should create more spaces than the waterfront loses and creating more parking for the downtown.  Therefore the goal is that the IMTF provide the maximum spaces it can.  Designs have ranged from 315 to 345 spaces with maximizing spaces a priority.

MORE SITING: In a recent Facebook posting, a city street map taken from the Planning Office was posted.  The map entitled “IMTF Option I” was created on 11/3/15 by Planning Director Andy Port.  This shows the aforementioned site in the Merrimack Street configuration but with small encroachments on several lots on Pleasant and Market Streets.  These encroachments as depicted on this public domain map does not impact any dwelling or structure on any property but only a sliver of land.  If acquired, this sliver would create a rectangle footprint that could maximize parking at the 345 number. 

PARTNERSHIPS: Much has been spoken/written about a deal with Newburyport Development (New England Development, AKA: Karp) that hasn’t happened.  Numbers have been thrown out on social media and the Daily News and these might or might not be correct because no agreement has been reached nor has City Council been provided with the details and City Council is required to sign off.  In this case the reason is simple, no agreement, no details.  It is on the record that Newburyport Development and the Mayor are in talks and that Newburyport Development could cede their land to the city for a certain number of spaces.  Research has shown that in many cases such as this, a common practice might be to determine the cost/value of constructing a parking space and then taking the assessed value of the land and dividing.  This could give you a number of spaces but of course there might be other factors at play as well that could sweeten the deal for either side.   

QUESTIONS: As a resident stated last evening, and something that many Councillors were quite aware of, of you have 345 spaces, lose 150 off the water, provide 90 to an entity in a land swap (that’s the speaker’s number not mine) you are down to 105 net new spaces but you also have to account for (this is me now) 9 Handicap spaces by law and several spaces for the facility itself.  Therefore you’re down to around 90+ spaces net.  There may be other options out there.  Conversely, what is the value of removing spaces from the waterfront?  Can that be priced out?

MISSING DATA: We have yet to see a traffic study, the exact business plan of who owns, operates the IMTF, who pays for maintenance and who absorbs the losses or gets the profits.  The City Auditor’s cost estimates also include a raise in parking fees to $1.00/hour city wide; something that City Council has yet to discuss. He also stated there should be an examination of every space in the downtown. Do we increase the resident parking program to protect neighborhoods? Do we make on-street parking part of the paid parking program? These also need to be discussed by City Council if a proposal comes before us.  Still more unanswered questions include, hours of operation, resident and employee permit parking programs, and snow emergencies; although the later seems to be almost a done deal. 

We know that we have a large restaurant slated to open next summer along with several open parcels, Water Front West, the old Lombardi site to name a couple suggests parking needs will only increase. 

The other item I can share is that other MVRTA parking garages are linked to train stations (Lawrence, Haverhill, Ipswich, Salem) so it is difficult to compare those to Newburyport.  To be successful the garage needs a 68% occupancy rate average for any given year and I believe we need hard information on this as well.  

So what’s next? Next steps include a follow-up meeting with abutters and more general city wide meetings, renderings and details, details, details.

I hope this brings the proposal into a better focus; as this plays out the image will get sharper. 

Thanks and sorry for the length,

Bob

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