Council to consider options for expanding parking at River Mill Park



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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  1. No more parking in the park! The BIA request might be plausible if certain businesses promoted staff to park elsewhere. Council turned it down in 2016. Are we going to continue to bring it up until Council caves? More vehicles in a pedestrian area? Heck, up the fine and issue tickets repeatedly. Can we not post a sign that reads “Fire Route $100 Fine”? On another parking endeavour, the decision to buy the property next to the Curling Club to ease their lack of parking is another example of ignoring town plans. What makes the town think that shoppers will use it in the summer, when the Legion’s parking lot remains underused. Too far to walk? Be thankful that you can. That money should have been used to implement the recommendations of the Transit Study, which is now one year behind. Transit hasn’t improved since 2006. No wonder it isn’t popular. I have been promoting long and hard for improved transit for a host of reasons. It is time it was made a priority. The town should be promoting “green” and ”emission reduction “, as per their Sustainability Plan. Why not revisit one way streets such a High Street which would allow angle parking and avoid that nasty left turn onto Brunel?
    Remember the movie Network and the famous quote “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore”? That be me.

    • Bonnie Branton on

      A Park:
      ‘An area of LAND usually in a largely natural state, for the enjoyment of the public, having facilities for rest & recreation, where people can walk & children can (safely) play.

      Parks are proven to improve water quality, protect ground water, prevent FLOODING & improve the quality of the air we breathe.

      Adding more parking, a sidewalk & going against professional advice (we paid for) to remove the parking lot in the middle of Riverside Park produces the polar opposite-
      Water runoff-water pollution, Carbon Dioxide emissions, traffic hazards to children etc. etc.

      Build a long overdue parking garage &
      pay attention to neglected transit needs please.

  2. Agreed, Deb! The park is already chock-a-block full for Band on the Run (as only one of several examples). Imagine the insanity if they were to bring back The Sheepdogs; given their rise in popularity since their previous appearance. In fact, the area is already insufficient to attract many events or festivals.
    Make use of the parking spaces near the Waterloo building. Try a pilot project with e-scooters to shuttle folk to and from the downtown; not only for events at the park, of course. Or maybe use a short , off-duty bus in the summers, and a taxi otherwise. I had high hopes for the Empire property but that timeline is non-existent. Plan now: you have a shoulder season to weigh the options. More parking will just attract more illegal parking.

  3. Jim Logagianes on

    Has this problem occurred because the town allows businesses to expand or renovate their existing buildings without any additional parking. How can two bars in town adjacent to River Mill park be aloud to double their seating? FYI, the town has this nifty little revenue stream, you can avoid parking requirements associated with building permits by paying $3500.00/ parking space. This is how the two bars doubled their seating capacity without any additional parking spaces? Could this cash grab by the town be one of the main reasons we have a parking problem downtown? And now we the taxpayers are expected to offset this poor policy initiative by subsidizing the parking requirements of the downtown businesses again. How many downtown merchants have adequate parking for their staff and their customers? Maybe its high time the town stopped allowing this poor policy to continue.

  4. Wow all great comments!
    Last summer i saw the bYlaw officer once and peopl were parked out onto the BRIDGE by pub on the docks almost every day among SO many othr places tht are clearly marked to NOT park ther….every inch of space was taken. I saw tow trucks takng vehicles tht were blockng peoples driveways!
    I LIVE dwntwn and had nowher to park (friend lends me his truck during the day sometimes so i can do errands, since the bus is ridiculous), i drove arnd for about hlf an hour with my groceries many diffrnt trips and had to go almst as far up as Florence jst to park (my buildng doesnt hav a parkng lot for tenants, many of the businesses dont).
    Iv also gottn many tickets in the past for not moving the truck evry 2 hrs but again, i live ther, cant go move it evry 2 hrs ALL summer (im not shopping or visiting) and nowher for it to go anyhow, if i leave to move it i’ll never find a spot again!
    And employees need somewher to park too tht isnt 5 blocks away. I usually cycle to get to work thank god.
    The park was designed poorly yes, but i feel its too late now, addng more parkng ther jst isnt gonna wrk and we need some green space (plus a lot of kids play ther, less traffic wld be safer).
    I SO wish the old empire property cld be used for parkng, perfect location, nice large space, already fairly level etc. What are the issues with it? Why can it not be bought up by the twn and turned into parking? Bilaw issues? Zoning issues? Cant we make tht happn??
    Transit NEEDS an overhaul desperately too!! Once every two hours it comes by a stop, are u kidding me?!! Thats ludicrous…at the momnt its only use is for seniors to take a day trip…no one else can use it to get to wrk whch makes employment options very limited for many locals who live and wrk in twn becaus they dont drive. Its def stopped me from takng wrk in certain ends of twn becaus gettng to thm in the winter is jst impossibl without a ride and public transit doesnt come oftn enough or doesnt evn go ther (ie. I wantd to apply at the food coop but the bus doesnt stop anywher near the far westend so tht was out come winter). I cant afford a cab 2 trips a day on minimum wage. Its very frustrating to kno i can only make it to a few job options year round…and ther are a lot of people with DUI’s in this twn who are now unemployed becaus their only job options hav to be within walking distance! Thats crazy for a twn this size.
    There are so many thngs tht need to be looked at but longterm growth and needs hav to be the focus, not more short term bandaids or money grabs….this twn is exploding…and not in a good way.
    And u kno what, a littl more focus on thos who actually live and work here year round wld be nice…its not ALL about tourists! We’r the ones who are serving thm, we matter and we need affordable places to live and places to park wher we wont get parking tickets while we’r at work!

  5. Some good comments here, from a variety of perspectives, that confirm the town’s challenges re parking and transit. The park was just being created when we moved here a few years ago and has grown into a wonderful outdoor space used by many. A village green that’s safe and well used and beautiful. Access to businesses is the biggest challenge, particularly AO and their waterfront activities. If tickets can’t be issued quickly and significantly enough to stop illegal parking, perhaps a tow truck parked off to the side while an officer, or a sign, informs those parking their car will be his next customer if they stay. And do it. Has anyone asked AO for ideas? Seems it’s really only their customers who regularly NEED to get down that stretch. Otherwise, only delivery vehicles should be allowed. Businesses backing on the park have really tidied up their act over the years so it’s more attractive. Adding asphalt won’t reduce the problem, only expand it as more vehicles will expect to be able to find parking thereby increasing vehicular traffic. If council, etc. decided to keep the area green, and for good reason, then they need to stick with the commitment. There will always be somebody wanting to be “special” and complaining.

  6. Debbie Maillet on

    The heck with that..we need to put in a splash pad to give our kids something fun to do during our summer days. Young kids dont have many things to do during summertime so they get frustrated and out of control. This is something that would be enjoyable to both young and old

  7. Michael Petropulos on

    That’s what I call a “BINGO!”, Jim Logagianes; with the exception that I don’t think that the taxpayer has been subsidizing much compared to what we have been doing, at our expense, for the last 50 years with the 250+ parking lot that is located on the other side of the bridge; and I am not talking about just chump change. After all, how do people actually think that the downtown parking overflow is actually being accommodated? Regrettably, I can’t see that the Town’s parking situation is going to get much better in 2020; just like any one-sided relationship, this one was doomed to come to an end. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not being selfish. I would love to make everyone happy by spending the quarter million dollars every five years that it would take to pave over (again (and again)) the Town’s old contaminated landfill. After all, that is what it would take to properly maintain just about any parking lot surface of this size that is being misused as a busy public road, particularly one where the water table is just 1.5 feet below grade at its lowest. No, thank you. I think that dealing with belligerent motorists (locals, namely) who actually believe that they have a self-entitled right to drive through and park upon our “private” property is a much better alternative. Not that my opinion obviously really counts, but in as much as the Ryerson grad study was “inspirational”, as a former small-time developer and student of urban planning myself, I honestly and objectively believe that the size and proximity of this stunning oasis does make it the only real viable option of fulfilling the Towns long term needs.

    • It’s great to see the support for expanding transit! That said, River Mill was always meant to be a green spot (not a grey one) for the downtown that could also provide drainage as needed during flooding It’s used by so many people every day, and is a great spot to have a coffee and rest awhile, or just watch the water go by. It’s a real draw for both locals and tourists. Once upon a time. the Town often spoke of reducing congestion downtown. Increasing parking will never get us there. There are numerous planning documents out there that support the idea that cities that build more parking get more traffic. Please don’t put more parking there! Green spots in the downtown core are so rare in any town. They should be protected.

  8. The bottom line in this for me is simple.
    I live in the countryside.
    I have to arrive by car as there is no public transit of any significance available.
    The town transit bus is, for my needs at least, essentially useless.
    If I can’t park within easy walking distance of any in town event…. I shall not go to it.

    A multi level parking garage might seem ridiculous for Huntsville at first glance, but then if you think about it, suppose you built a 3 level garage. Demand for parking is highest in summer so you’d bet full use of all three levels. In winter the top level would become the roof and you’d get two levels (2/3) of your parking with no snow removal issues.
    Might something like this work?

    How about the old Mountain view sewage plant that is supposed to be closed and gone about 20 years ago?
    It still seems to be very much a reality but there is quite a bit of land there and around it.
    Parking is in short supply at the High school and Summit Centre too so maybe put a big parking facility near the old sewage plant, walk along the riverside to the downtown or maybe put a foot bridge over the river as was proposed for the G-8 but never done so that this parking area could service both downtown, with a short walk and the Summit place by footbridge over the river.

    Failing this put in a shuttle bus that actually works but the ongoing cost of a bus that runs frequently enough to be useful might well exceed the cost of a parking lot over time.

    The town needs to do something better.

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