Councillor Bob Stone brought a motion forward at Huntsville Council’s November 23 meeting which would have directed staff to enter into a memorandum of understanding with Mike Peters, owner of the parking lot at 6 John Street. The agreement would enable the municipality to rent Peters’ parking lot in 2021 for an amount not to exceed $17,000 in order to secure parking for downtown patrons during the reconstruction of Huntsville’s Main Street.
The motion also directed staff to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Downtown Huntsville Business Improvement Area (BIA) to share the cost of renting the parking lot with 60 per cent of the cost to be borne by the municipality and 40 per cent by the BIA. The motion also called for $10,200 to be added to the draft 2021 Municipal Accommodation Tax operational budget for the rental, estimated to amount to about 200 parking spaces.
“Of all the things that the Town can do to help the businesses downtown survive the streetscape, I think this is the single most important thing that we can do,” Stone told his fellow councillors. “We can have a great communication plan, offer 50 per cent grant funding for façade improvement, hire consultants to make websites for the businesses but if the people of Huntsville and the visitors can’t easily, without planning ahead or checking a website, simply drive to the downtown and shop they will go somewhere else. This parking lot is literally a stone’s throw from downtown. We can rent these 200 spots and we’ll never hear ‘I couldn’t find a spot because of the construction’ and they can always get to the businesses.”
Councillor Thompson said 200 parking spots would be great but questioned whether the owner would be willing to provide marked parking spots “so that people will have an idea where they can park without just a big hodgepodge of cars jammed into that space down there. So I’m hoping that we’re looking at lined spaces…”
Terziano said the memorandum could ask that the parking stalls be marked as part of the agreement.
Snow removal was also a concern. Councillor Jason FitzGerald questioned who would be responsible for snow removal. “Whose responsibility would that be in this $17,000 agreement?” FitzGerald also wondered how many parking spots would be eliminated due to snow storage.
Terziano said she thought the primary use of the lot would be May to October, “so I’m not sure whether we’d get into snow removal.” She asked Steve Hernen, director of operations and protective services for the Town to chime in, but he said he had not been privy to discussions with Peters.”I haven’t been party to these discussions. I don’t know what the concept is but Main Street will be reopened in November so I don’t really know if you really require winter parking. You know when you look at Main Street as a whole, and I don’t have the numbers in front of me, I think it’s like 60 spots. I know we’re losing some with the turn lanes but by November Main Street will be reopened. It will shut down for a few days in the spring the following year for the final pavement going down but, like I say, I wasn’t party to the discussions.”
Councillor Dan Armour asked what would happen to the existing vendors who use the lot. “Would they be displaced by us renting this and would they have to find new locations because I think they make a pretty good living sitting in that area.”
Terziano said she did not think the vendors would be displaced but that other areas of the lot could be used for parking. She said the details had not yet been worked out but all those issues could be addressed through a memorandum of understanding if council agrees to move in that direction.
“I guess fundamentally I have an issue with this whole thing coming to us now,” said Councillor Tim Withey. “We have no idea who negotiated the $17,000. According to Director Hernen he hasn’t been party to any of this stuff… and we’re still in budget deliberations so I’m not happy with just approving $17,000 for something we don’t know a lot of details for, so I will not be supporting this, this motion.”
Stone clarified that the Town would not be paying $17,000 but $10,200 and that the funds “would come from the [Municipal] Accommodation Tax Fund.”
Deputy Mayor Nancy Alcock said understanding how it would impact the food vendors [and the brewery], which also use the lot is important “but I also echo what councillor Withey is saying. The recommendation to go forward with this wasn’t in the staff report so I think there are a number of questions around things like the [parking lines]… but also the condition of the parking lot. There are other parts, as I recall, that are not in great shape, but maybe I’m wrong. I haven’t been there I guess in a while.” She also asked Stone whether he had been given any indication from the BIA that they would be willing to pitch in funds to rent the lot.
Stone said he brought the issue up at a BIA board meeting. “They were all very excited about the prospect of getting it. We did not talk about how it was going to be funded. I did speak to Rachel Hunt who is the chair of the board and she is very much in support and thinks it’s one of the important boxes to check off for saving downtown.”
Councillor Brian Thompson had this to say: “I think we should really put our best foot forward and get all these answers and come back with an idea exactly of what we can expect of the $17,000 because as Councillor Stone says it’s critical, and I couldn’t agree with him more. This is going to do a lot for downtown… If we can make it work I think we have to.”
In the end, the motion was deferred to council’s December meeting and staff was directed to negotiate terms with Peters for the possible rental of his parking lot.
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