Although it contradicts the Town’s recently approved strategic plan for 2019-2023, the possibility of adding additional parking adjacent to River Mill Park has returned for discussion by councillors, due in part to illegal parking that happens frequently in the area.
At its September meeting, the Town’s Operations and Protective Services Committee heard a report from director Steven Hernen presenting three possible options: status quo, the addition of six parallel parking spaces at the south edge of the park along Dara Howell Way to the east of King Street or the addition of 15 angled parking spaces in the same location.
Hernen added that a sidewalk could also be considered between the grassed area of the park and either of the parking options.
“Pedestrians are now walking down the road…we never actually finished a walkway down to the docks to show people where to walk,” he said. “Part of the thinking was if we do parking here, maybe it’s time to delineate it for the walking public to show them where to go.”
The parallel parking option plus a sidewalk would remove a 4.5-metre strip from the edge of the park while the angled parking option plus a sidewalk would remove a 7.5-metre strip from the edge of the park. (Without a sidewalk, those measurements would each be 1.5 metres less.)
According to the staff report, a previous motion to expand parking in River Mill Park was defeated by council in 2016. The estimated costs associated with the two parking options at that time were $57,000 for 10 parallel parking spots or $67,000 for 21 angled parking spots. (The 2019 options have been reduced in number of spots by four and six respectively due to landscaping that has since been completed in the park; the cost estimate has remained the same.)
Earlier this year, the Downtown Huntsville BIA requested that additional parking in the area of Dara Howell Way be considered and that allowable parking time be extended from two hours to three hours. Town staff were directed to report back on the request.
In the report presented to committee last month, staff did not make a recommendation for any of the suggested options.
“There’s a lot at play in the park right now,” said Hernen. “One of the things we’ve been instructed to look at [in the strategic plan]is removing all parking from River Mill Park. The strategic plan passed [on Monday, September 23]and here we are putting parking back in. The community garden, they’re looking for an expansion into the park. Staff were directed Monday night to find another location for the community garden with more space somewhere else. And there’s talk in the strategic plan about installation of a splash pad in River Mill Park. So…I wonder if this is an item that should be kicked up to council for discussion and staff can get some direction on which direction you want us to go. We can’t add parking and remove parking at the same time. We’re a little confused.”
Deputy Mayor Karin Terziano said she appreciated “the fact that we certainly are sending mixed messages about parking in the park among other things in our strategic plan. I’m happy to send this up to council for a full discussion. One of the reasons that it has come about is because of not just the lack of parking but the illegal parking that happens down on Dara Howell Way and that has actually prompted this discussion.”
Councillors Jason FitzGerald and Nancy Alcock both said they liked the idea of a sidewalk, with Alcock adding that she “would favour fewer parking spots because I don’t like the idea of moving into the park seven-and-a-half metres.”
Councillor Tim Withey concurred that angled parking would encroach on the park too much, and added that he didn’t think a sidewalk would be necessary.
“I’m not as concerned about sidewalks in this area. I think that people can walk on the grass if they want to. I think that’s an expensive venture,” Withey said. “I think that also businesses are now having back doors to their business there and are encouraging people to go in and out so they are going to be walking on [the road]anyways. If I could wave a magic wand, I’d put a two-tier garage behind Royal Bank and eliminate all parking in that area, but that’s a big ask, it’s a big stretch…I also recognize that the businesses need a service link for deliveries et cetera, so you’re not going to get rid of that road.”
Withey added that “one of the things that has bugged me for years…the hydro line goes across the river and there’s that one line and one pole that sticks down right in the middle of everything [in the park]. For years I’ve asked if we can get that buried at the source, at the big pole… I don’t know why it needs to be there. It’s ugly. Why can’t we just stick it in the ground?”
Director Hernen said that he’d have an answer to that question at the next council meeting, while committee chair, Councillor Brian Thompson, added that when it had been discussed in the past “the cost was exorbitant as I recall.”
Committee passed a resolution to refer the matter to Town Council at its next regular meeting in October to “engage in a full discussion on the future uses of River Mill Park and provide staff with clear direction on the vision for the area.”
See the Town’s online interactive strategic plan for 2019 to 2023 here.
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