Audrey Child: Recalls Town Meeting action on parking garage

Thursday, February 01, 2018
Recalls Town Meeting on parking garage

As we consider whether to change Amherst’s form of government, let’s look at a past Town Meeting decision.

The need for a parking garage has come back because 15 years ago, a new garage was planned in the center of offices, shops, housing, restaurants, and town institutions like the Jones Library — a perfect location to serve the downtown. However, anti-garage sentiment in Town Meeting made many “compromises” to some of its most important features.

The idea that parking garages are ugly led it to eliminate the upper floors and put cars underground into a smaller, dark, cramped space.

Another way to deal with the perceived ugliness was to turn the above- ground parking into a more park-like amenity. Spacious areas with benches took up a number of the remaining spots.

Rather than be able to park first and pay on leaving, parking time was reduced to four hours and people have to pay when they park, missing the point that a parking garage encourages people to come downtown. The focus was on turnover and preventing people from staying “too long.”

In order to sell the compromise, the cost of the garage was increased to reinforce the lower structure in case it decided to add upper floors in the future “if there was a need.”

Town Meeting succeeded in preventing a real parking garage from being built and the result is that there is still inadequate parking and a lack of foot traffic downtown.

It is time for the new charter and thoughtful, well-researched decisions.

Audrey Child