BERLIN – A conversation on parking in Berlin during last week’s Berlin Planning Commission meeting revealed strong support for the necessity of more parking, but little in the way of action to achieve that goal.
Ron Cascio, representing the prospective Pitt Street redevelopment project, said he just wanted to get the conversation going with his proposal of a parking garage.
Under Berlin’s code, the redeveloped Pitt Street property would need to provide more parking to accommodate tenants or pay fees-in-lieu to the town to make up for the lack.
While Berlin’s code does call for parking fees-in-lieu, the town council has never set a dollar value on those fees, nor has it determined how and where to use those fees once they have been accumulated.
“We got to know about parking really soon,” said Cascio. “That could make or break the project.”
The redevelopment of the Pitt Street property, providing more and higher quality apartments and retail space, could be just the beginning for the town.
“I consider us as the tripwire,” said Cascio, setting off a wave of redevelopment and improvements to Berlin’s structures, all of which will generate a higher demand for parking. Parking is also necessary to a tourist-based economy.
Cascio suggested building a parking garage behind traditional downtown Berlin style buildings, so the garage does not stand out.
“We ought to be thinking parking garage. We ought to be thinking of dollars for a parking garage,” said Planning Commission member Pete Cosby.
“There’s nowhere to go but up,” acknowledged Berlin Planning and Zoning Superintendent Chuck Ward.
“We’ve got to get a fund going,” said Cosby.
Cosby supported the parking garage concept, funded by fees-in-lieu, with residents using the garage on a residential pass system.
Several possible sites for more public parking or a parking garage were thrown out, including the extensive lot west of Main Street, the Donaway Furniture property, Wainwright’s tire center next to the post office, and the field by the ice plant. The public lot to the east of Main Street also seemed one logical place to add parking through a garage. All sites were discussed on a hypothetical basis.
Any new parking, whether a lot or garage, needs to be kept within walking distance of downtown Berlin, Planning Commission Chair Newt Chandler said. That limits possible sites.
“We have a problem and it’s time we address it,” said Cascio. “In no way is any of this going to be cheap.”
A fees-in-lieu fund could be used to pay for a study of a parking garage.
Ward suggested that developers could chip in for a parking study, since it would benefit their projects.
A public meeting to gather input from Berliners on a solution to the town’s parking woes could be a good idea, Cosby said.
Cascio agreed a “mini-hearing” could be beneficial.
“Parking is going to be a big issue,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall, who was in the audience at the Planning Commission meeting. “Going forward in the town we’ve got to address this,”
“Instead of doing it piecemeal, let’s come up with a plan,” Cascio said, on parking downtown.
Ward recommended that the Planning Commission ask the Berlin Mayor and Council to consider fees-in-lieu and what those fees would be spent on, as a start to parking improvements.