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City tackles Downtown parking

Not being able to find parking space in downtown Peabody is frustrating, but according to Mayor Ted Bettencourt that means things are looking up. During last Thursday’s Industrial & Community Development Committee meeting as the Committee of the Whole, Bettencourt said, “We want to create a parking problem. It means we have people coming to stores and restaurants.”

The real problem is managing the situation. The two-hour meeting incited a lively discourse of the Mayor’s proposed zoning amendment to reduce parking requirements in the B-C Zoning District and to allow for residential parking overnight in municipal lots.

Councillor-at-Large Dave Gravel suggested imposing steeper fines for meter violations. “One of the arguments for strengthening parking meter fines is to force cars from long-term parking … The idea was never to burden businesses,” Gravel said. Currently, many area business employees, as well as residents, are taking up valuable parking spaces.

One example of the burden to businesses was noted by Councillor-at-Large Anne Manning-Martin concerning residential parking on Washington Street by Kelley’s, Buddha’s and Paddy Kelly’s. “Just losing two spaces really hurts these businesses,” she said. With plans for developing the downtown, she said, “Are we helping the developers to the detriment of existing businesses?”

“If you build it, they will come,” Manning-Martin said, “and if they come, they will come with cars.”

Bettencourt added, “It’s a very difficult process for an area that’s struggled. We want to remove the impediments.”

Bettencourt said the creation of a parking management plan is critical. The essential components of the proposal include reducing the allotment of parking spaces in the Central Business Districts from 2.3 per residential unit to 1 for a one-bedroom apartment, 1.5 for a two-bedroom, and 2 for three or more bedrooms. Overnight parking in municipal lots, he said, “should have some fee attached.”

The Committee Chairperson, Ward 6 Councillor Barry Sinewitz, said, “We can have all the plans in the world, but if there’s no enforcement we’re going to be in trouble.”

Ward 2 Councillor Peter McGinn said the police need to play an active role, as do the building owners. “The building owners should manage the parking requirements of the residents,” McGinn said.

Bettencourt said approving the proposal is a “bold step” to take, but the “right decision.” The City Council supported the proposal, but Sinewitz and Manning-Martin issued “no” votes, with Gravel opposing a parking management plan.

By Pam Wehbi

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