October 10, 2018LITTLETON—The Select Board-empowered Parking Commission met last week, for a detailed and lively discussion of the challenges facing the downtown's parking ecosystem.
Parking limits the total volume of visitors that Littleton can accommodate, and is considered a major factor in facilitating, or limiting, future economic activity.
"If we plan for less than peak, we're putting a limiter on economic activity in the downtown," said Town Manager Andrew Dorsett, who added that multi-season surges call for an aggressive, forward-looking attitude toward building and maintaining capacity.
By contrast, a few weekends, or single season, of elevated demand for parking would pose less of a problem.
There is a certain seasonal ebb and flow to the demand for parking in Littleton's downtown, though a large working commuter population and strong commercial draw supports a robust level of vehicle traffic throughout the year.
"From a tourist standpoint, there's the two dead zones," said Commissioner Mary Menzies, who observed that the month of November and the March-April "mud season" were the slackest times of year.
"We're really a three season resort," Menzies added.
Not all Littleton residents share the same interests in parking. Since parking spaces form a key bottleneck for total daily customers, the average business owner is likely to support the maximum possible quantity, observed NCC planner Alex Belensz. For them, parking is as integral to their livelihoods as sufficient water, sewer, and electricity.
"There are different stakeholders with different needs, and they won't necessarily be helped by the same solutions," Menzies observed.
Several Commissioners believe the electric cars are the future, and that Littleton could capture additional commercial energy by giving that future some thought.
According to Dorsett, comparable towns charge a few dollars per hour to park and recharge electric vehicles, and there are accessible and affordable station installation options. For instance, Tesla offers free installation, so long as the community takes on maintenance. A generic station costs about $600, he said, and feature built-in credit-card payment systems.
Attracting electric car owners, and their shopping dollars, could be a small but meaningful boost:
"We might get some people headed north to Quebec with a bunch of money hanging out of their pocket," observed Commissioner Jim MacMahon III.
New Hampshire lags behind Maine and Vermont in the availability of electric car corridors, with regularly available charging stations on major routes, said Belensz. He suggested that Littleton could take advantage of that gap.
"We've got the cheapest electricity in New England," Dorsett observed.
On the other hand, Littleton has relatively light parking regulations, which limits its ability to finance new spaces directly from parking-related revenues.
"We barely have a parking fund, and no way to meet that demand," said Dorsett, who has raised the idea that new businesses should pay for or create some quantity of parking proportional to their expected needs.
According to Commission members, Littleton divested itself of the bulk of its parking rules during a round of municipal deregulation, some years ago.
Winter brings its own challenges, especially when the absolute need to plow runs up against neglected or outright abandoned vehicles left in the way.
"We've had to remove some vehicles from the lots for being parked there too long," said Commissioner Austin Bailey. "If we can't get ahold of anybody, it gets plowed in with snow."
Typically, vehicles are removed after 30 days at the owner's expense, and in the case of unregistered cars, sent back to the last official owner.
Parking fees and tickets collectively bring in tens of thousands of dollars, though there is a running debate about the potential for all-year free parking.