Study finds Amherst’s Boltwood garage could expand, but councilors question need

  • A recent study found that the Boltwood parking garage in Amherst could be expanded by 100 spaces, but councilors question the need and cost. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Boltwood parking garage in Amherst on Wednesday August 23, 2023. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Thursday, September 14, 2023

AMHERST — Downtown Amherst’s 180-space Boltwood parking garage, opened in the summer of 2002 with both a surface level and below-ground level, is capable of being expanded, according to a recently completed feasibility study, though the report suggests that adding more than 100 parking spaces would come at a cost of more than $10 million.

For members of the Town Council, who received reports on the possibility of expanding the existing structure as well as an assessment of its condition from Desman Design Management of Boston, the original structural engineer, downtown’s demand for parking should be known before moving forward on parking garage options.

“My question is why are we pursuing a site study, or even this report, when we haven’t pursued a demand or a needs assessment,” District 1 Councilor Michele Miller said at a Town Council meeting late last month.

“When I look at the cost of these options, I was just floored the millions and millions of dollars to build a parking facility, when we haven’t even really figured out whether we need more parking,” Miller said.

District 5 Councilor Ana Devlin Gauthier, too, said the costs are exorbitant for a town that has many other needs.

“I see those multimillion-dollar numbers and then I look at our roads and our sidewalks and our DPW and our fire station, and it’s just a ‘no,’” Devlin Gauthier said. “It’s not possible for me to justify prioritizing this as a town project in any way, shape or form, unless we got a grant to cover the whole dang thing magically.”

At Large Councilor Andy Steinberg said he would need to be convinced that there is inadequate parking in downtown before any project commences, noting he has always been able to find parking in the town-owned lot between North Pleasant and North Prospect streets, which in December 2021 was rezoned to accommodate the possibility of a new parking structure, despite objections from nearby residents.

Senior Planner Nate Malloy provided an overview of the reports from Desman, one that examined the possibility of adding spaces to the Boltwood parking garage by building up and the other detailing current conditions.

The report was commissioned in response to rezoning two years ago.

“The reason that we’ve been asking for Boltwood is the rumor it could be expanded,” District 3 Councilor Dorothy Pam said. “It needed to be clarified before anyone broke any ground to build a parking garage cheek by jowl with a historic district.”

Malloy said the study confirmed that Town Meeting in the late 1990s appropriated extra money to allow for an expansion.

“It isn’t an urban legend. Back in the day there was additional money voted for the garage and everyone was always curious if it was built to that capacity,” Malloy said.

“They did say there are options to go up,” he noted.

But it would come at a cost of $70,000 to $130,000 per space, a significant price tag compared to Greenfield’s 300-space parking garage that opened in 2019, which was built at $30,000 per space.

“Though it was designed to have these additional levels, you have to be really careful with not just what the load is on one level, but on all levels going down to the foundation and the columns,” Malloy said.

The findings of this study indicate the structural foundations can support one to two additional levels of parking for passenger vehicles, for a total of either 302 spaces or 415 spaces.

“The cost of all of this would be two to three times higher than new construction because of the complexities on an existing foundation or piers,” Malloy said.

District 4 Councilor Pamela Rooney said she appreciates staff getting the answers to questions, while District 2 Councilor Pat DeAngelis said that that vertical expansion of the Boltwood garage would impact the businesses that exist around it, meaning that looking in other areas of downtown for a suitable site still has to be done.

“What are the needs and what are the other sites?” DeAngelis asked.

Council President Lynn Griesemer said everything boils down to whether there is a need.

“If anything we need to determine our need, or maybe update our need, I’m suggesting that is our next step and that is where we should focus any energy,” Griesemer said.

Though no decisions were to be made, several residents spoke about their concerns before the council discussion.

James Muspratt of North Prospect Street suggested that the parking overlay district, which excuses developers from providing parking spaces for their residents in mixed-use buildings, should be examined, and that the town should get maximum use of underused private lots.

Ken Rosenthal of Sunset Avenue said the Boltwood garage should be expanded. “It would mean that you would not need to or want to build a perking garage on North Prospect Street, which is a general historic district,” Rosenthal said.

“Instead of paying millions of dollars to either expand the Boltwood parking structure or build a new garage on North Prospect Street, first implement the several suggestions made by the last study which concluded downtown has ample parking and nearing capacity only at peak dinner times,” said Ira Bryck of Strong Street.