Push on for 2-garage solution

In a Dec. 17 letter to Mohammed Khan, the administrator for the Montachusett Area Regional Transit Authority (MART), Ayer Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski provided feedback on behalf of the Ayer Board of Selectmen regarding a draft study performed on preliminary downtown parking matters.
The Montachusett Regional Planning Council (MRPC) prepared the report for MART.

While not addressing the contents of the MART-commissioned MRPC report, instead Suhoski lobbied, on the selectmen's behalf, that the MART join with the selectmen in support of the creation of two, not one, parking facilities in downtown Ayer -- also known as the "hybrid" solution.

MART's emphasis to date has been on the creation of one parking facility to be located at the intersection of Park and Main Streets. In this letter, Suhoski lobbies for the creation of a second garage/lot location on Central Street, next to the Post Office and across the street from the Nashoba Club.

Dear Mr. Khan:

Please accept the following comments on the draft document entitled "Ayer Parking Garage Impact Analysis." I will leave to MART / MRPC discretion on how best to incorporate, or respond to, such commentary.

On the whole, I am pleased with the breadth of detail and analysis and fully concur with the recommendation that the project move forward with more detailed operational and engineering studies to identify improvement and mitigation projects associated with the parking facility.

The state
and federal funds appear to have been mired in a bureaucratic malaise. It is my hope, and that of the Board of Selectmen, that the earmarked funds be tapped now to initiate actual design and engineering of appropriately-sized and scaled facilities to serve the regional commuters and the historic central business district.

The report provides a wealth of information and data that further highlights the need for additional parking for the commuter rail station.

The most recent MBTA ridership totals indicate that Ayer's station was the busiest of all stations in MART's service area during the most recent reporting period. With the substantial improvements pending for the Fitchburg Line including rail upgrades, double-tracking and improved scheduling to allow for reverse commute operations, it is essential this project be advanced now to ensure continued access for regional commuters while also maintaining the vitality of Ayer's historic downtown station and business district.

The document references construction of a 400-vehicle parking garage on the site of the current surface lot for the Nashua River Rail Trail. My understanding is this total reflects an identified 350-vehicle demand, plus a 50-vehicle set-aside for the rail trail users.

As you know, the Board of Selectmen have adopted a series of findings endorsing the need for additional parking and specifically endorsing the so-called "hybrid" solution wherein the proposed 400-space parking demand would be shared between a structure constructed on the rail trail site and a complementary surface lot or parking deck constructed ideally along fallow land abutting Central Ave. and the railroad tracks.

The Board of Selectmen's voted findings of March 20, 2007 reflect the preliminary planning, the need for parking, and the Board's vision for facilities that will fit the scale and character of the historic downtown district.

Earlier this year, the Board of Selectmen endorsed further-developed concepts articulated in the October 2008 "Parking and Town Center Sites in Downtown Ayer" program summary by The Cecil Group, Inc., and the May 2009 recommendation to "ensure the continuation of the Ayer train depot at its current location and final design and construction of parking facilities and streetscape improvements" as listed in the "Downtown Ayer Commercial Market Study Findings Report" by Larry Koff & Associates.

Most recently, as has been shared with MART and MRPC, the Board of Selectmen endorsed the June 2009 "Ayer: Downtown Planning and Transit Initiatives" compiled illustrative plan which identifies the preferred Main Street crossing location and the proposed hybrid parking sites. Copies of all reports identified have previously been conveyed to MART.

In sum, the desire to site 400 spaces of parking at the rail trail site will require initiation of architectural and engineering work to allow a full public vetting of the size, scale, and design considerations of the parking structure together with mitigation of any traffic or Main Street crossing impacts. It is my understanding that completion of the MART/MRPC report will now afford access to the next phase of earmarked funds to retain qualified architectural and engineering resources to ensure a facility or facilities that meet both the regional needs and the local vision.

Lastly, in a related matter, the Town has provided to MART/MRPC staff information concerning a promising potential land acquisition in the "Depot Square" area that would provide a logical, perpetual and clearly defined corridor to access the train station directly from the end of the rail trail. The area is generally defined on the compiled Cecil plan. The actual crosswalk / crossing location would need to be determined through the report's recommendation of additional operational and engineering review.

It was my understanding that this crossing option was to have been explored either within the report or as an addendum thereto.

At this point, it appears the project should move to the next phase through the retention of a qualified architectural and engineering firm that would work collaboratively with MART and the Board of Selectmen to design a mutually-preferred solution to the parking demand.

The Board of Selectmen eagerly await receipt of the final report for full public disclosure and vetting. It is fully anticipated that the report document itself be accompanied with your agency's recommendations on the next steps and a timeline for procuring/retaining a qualified architectural and engineering firm.

I am returning the DRAFT report to you herewith. Thank you for your technical assistance in moving this project forward. Call me directly at 978-772-8210 with any questions.


Shaun A. Suhoski

Town Administrator

cc: Board of Selectmen
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