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Joyce Endee

Tilton one step closer to downtown parking solution

August 19, 2009
TILTON — Working with the town to find a solution to parking issues downtown, the Main Street Program has helped develop a plan that earned mainly rave reviews, along with a few concerns, at a public hearing last Thursday.

The plans would create parking lots for downtown tenants and merchants, leaving Main Street open for customers of local businesses. Right now, apartment tenants, merchants and employees are utilizing these parking spots, leaving many non-Main Street residents at a loss as to where they should park to do business.

Vince Paratore of the Main Street Program presented a mapped proposal for downtown Tilton, designating changes and what lots would be available for residential and merchant parking. The proposal includes adding more space to the current municipal lot off School Street in Tilton by entering into an agreement with property owner Carmine Sarno. The town has discussed options with Sarno, which would include returning the $500 in taxes to him each year in exchange for use of the lot for municipal parking. The town would maintain the lot for snow removal and tenants of buildings in the area would be able to purchase parking stickers for $15 per year.

Property owner Bob DeForge expressed his concern that the town was creating an "administrative nightmare" in monitoring who lived or owned a business in the town's downtown area. Selling passes at $15 per car for tenants and business people could be difficult to track, he said.

"There is a pretty transient population of business owners here," he told the selectmen. "Is there going to be a time when you say, 'Sorry- all the parking permits for the year are given out?' And what about tenants with out of town guests? Where will they park? If we don't have happy renters then that concerns us."

The selectmen acknowledged that out-of-town guests of tenants had not been considered and thanked him for bringing the issue up. Passes they felt would not be oversold as proof of residency would cancel out the prior pass for the same address. Residents would have to bring a letter of tenancy or a utility bill to get their permit.

Disabled residents and merchants were also discussed. DeForge, disabled himself, told them that walking even 100 feet at times is a struggle for him. Downtown parking currently has little handicap spaces and residents having to use somewhat more remote parking could encounter difficulties in using off-site parking lots.

The board heard several suggestions to increase the number of handicap lots in the vicinity, including adding two in the parking lot beside the Tilton House of Pizza and one on each end of Main Street itself. There is also a handicap parking spot in the town's School Street parking lot capable of handling a handicap van, which requires more space to unload passengers.

Hairdressers and barbers were in attendance with their own particular concerns. Marion Abbott said that her salon services require customers to leave their cars for longer than the allotted two hour parking limit. Sherry Lebreche of the barber shop spoke up to emphasize many of her clientele are handicapped and would need consideration as well.

Handicapped cars, displaying the proper sign-age would have no limit on their parking times in the downtown parking spaces, Paratore explained. Besides this consideration, the municipal lot beside the pizzeria would allow for three hour parking.

Lebreche also stated that recently she has noted a big difference in the parking situation and thanked the Tilton Police Department for stepping up their patrols in the area and ticketing abusers. Merek Weisensee of the Tilton PD said the Explorer Program had been patrolling the area and handling downtown ticketing. In doing so they have tried to be mindful of those who deserved special consideration for physical ailments or extended appointments in the salons and barbershops on Main Street, he said.

Questions were also posed on how to handle delivery trucks, multi-car families and other miscellaneous situations that could occur, such as long-tem illness of a tenant and unregistered vehicles. It was noted that many downtown tenants do not own vehicles and delivery trucks would be allowed time to unload for the local businesses as usual.

Scott Davis, concerned like DeForge over administrative snags in juggling tenant parking for those moving in and out of the area, suggested that property owners handle the permits for their tenants, freeing up town employees from tracking them. Accountability then came into question, discussing methods to keep a building owner from running a "Ponzi scheme" by selling passes for more than the town would charge. Many property owners, pointed out merchant Kim Chadwick, are absentee landlords and questioned how they would handle parking passes if they were left to their control. The board said it would further investigate these issues.

Merchant Elaine DeMello said her business employs only three people, none of whom are on duty at the same time. Instead of purchasing stickers for vehicles, she suggested that placards be sold instead, to be hung from rearview mirrors. These placards could be reused and save the town from tracking their possession. Employees could swap them between their vehicles as they arrived at work.

Jim Clements, headmaster of Tilton School, said he had "a high level of support" for the town's efforts to change the parking situation.

"When we agree on a broad-based goal like that though, we have to accept that it's going to be imperfect," he added.

Resident Carol Stone thanked the selectmen and the Main Street Program for addressing the situation.

"I can't shop downtown because I can't find a space for my car," she said. "Bravo for doing something about it!"

Paratore said later that he had been watching the downtown parking for some time now and counted up to 30 cars on the street in the early morning hours, long before businesses opened. Freeing up those spaces by moving tenants to off-street parking lots would be a big boon to merchants. There are 54 apartments in the vicinity, many of them still vacant. Not all residents in these apartments have vehicles and, should parking spots for residents and merchants become an issue, the town would consider using other municipally owned lots along the downtown sector to accommodate the growth.

"Right now I am more concerned with cars, not how many apartments there are," said Paratore. "If we find our parking is exhausted early, then we'll do something about it."

The total parking proposal is being prepared for presentation to voters in March, but moving merchants and tenants into available parking currently owned by the town could begin sooner once the specifics are finalized. Stickers would be available on a yearly basis from April to April of each year.

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