|Pittsfield Council Holds Off on South Church Parking Changes |
|By Jack Guerino, iBerkshires Staff |
01:01AM / Thursday, October 10, 2019
|The City Council tabled a request to lift a parking ban on a section of South Church Street that some councilors saw as an accommodation to Wayfair. |
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council tabled a request to remove "No Parking" on South Church Street after expressing concerns over parking restrictions and questions about the parking situation for the soon to open Wayfair call center.
Councilors spent about half of Tuesday's meeting debating a request from the city to allow unrestricted parking on South Church Street but determined they were not ready to make such a decision.
"Let's table this to get the information out," Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers said. "Let's cut the ribbon Thursday and then watch for the next six months and see what is needed there ... I don't understand the urgency to do this tonight."
Wayfair plans to hire up to 300 people to staff its call center in the Clocktower Building. A ceremonial ribbon cutting is set for Thursday morning at 10 with local and state officials.
Last month, the Traffic Commission approved the request that City Engineer Ricardo Morales said would accommodate future improvements to the road, allow more parking in an underutilized area that will become busier, and make the street safer.
Tuesday night, he told the council that the decision was not directly in response to Wayfair coming to Pittsfield but was influenced by it. He said with online home decor retailer moving in, there is an expectation of more vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Allowing on-street parking would open up nearly 30 more spots.
Morales said parking would be unlimited for the time being until the city develops new regulations most likely guided by a downtown parking analysis the city looks to undergo.
This was the first sticking point for the City Council and Rivers was not comfortable with open-ended, unlimited parking.
"It feels like we are making accommodations for a business that is moving in there ... I understand it is an urban neighborhood but not having a plan ... ," she said. "If we approve this we have this huge gap we are creating this free for all and we have no idea what is going to happen next."
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell agreed but was more concerned about unlimited parking without enforcement or control.
"It seems like we are sending an unequal message to the residents. I am just surprised we are having no time limit," he said. "If you want to put a three-hour limit, I can go along with that ... but all of a sudden we are going to give free parking there. It is not a 'Monopoly' game."
Morales said there are other areas in town with unlimited parking and people currently park on South Church Street anyways. He added that residents in the area have their own parking as well as other businesses.
Morales said personally he would like to install a kiosk system on the street.
The conversation then moved to Wayfair and Morales said the company plan to accommodate 80 parking spots for employees. Since Wayfair ultimately expects 300 employees, the extra street parking will help ease this demand.
Ward 3 Councilor Nicholas Caccamo said Wayfair does not plan to bring on these 300 employees immediately and that they would likely work in shifts. He said the city should not expect 300 cars all at once.
Councilor at Large Peter White added that having this temporary open parking may help the city gauge what the demand will actually be once Wayfair moves in. He said this would better inform what regulations or measure the city wants to implement.
Some councilors still were concerned about the possible 300 employees and only 80 Wayfair parking spots. Ward 7 Councilor Anthony Simonelli said even with the 30 new open spots, there may be issues and asked the city solicitor if Wayfair had to meet any parking regulations.
"It sounds like a lot of the pieces of the puzzle have not been followed," he said.
The city solicitor did not have an answer.
Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said she did not know for sure if Wayfair went before the Zoning Board of Appeals or Community Development and felt there was too much speculation amongst the council to make a parking decision Tuesday night.
"This is a good problem to have. We have lots of people coming in and we need parking ... but we have a tendency in Pittsfield, where when we have a new business coming in, start changing these rules when we have businesses that have been here long and hard," she said. "It is not fair. We need to put the breaks on this."
She said the fact that a decision was being made without clear information or a clear plan raised "red flags"
Council President Peter Marchetti said Wayfair plans to hold a ribbon-cutting so all appears to be in order.
"I guess I would say since Wayfair has already been built and they are cutting the ribbon Thursday whatever special permits or requirements they need they already have or else they would not be opening," he said. "In order for them to open, they need a certificate of occupancy and that is a fact."
Morales said Wayfair has not requested a change of use in The Berkshire Eagle building so there was not a need for a special permit. He said they have prior permits under the prior use as an office space.
Todd Rivers agreed that the councilors were not all on the same page and was upset that she was not directly contacted about an agenda item that affects her ward.
"I don't care if it is this administration or going forwards ... do not bring something forward that effects a neighborhood and not contact the ward councilor," she said. "To me, it is a lack of respect not only to the ward councilor but to the residents who live there because my phone is buzzing right now."
She added that she has brought up safety concerns on the street in the past and believed they are only now coming to the forefront now that Wayfair is moving in.
Morales did apologize to Todd Rivers for not informing her of the request and said they did not reach out to street residents because they already have their own parking.
White chimed in and said he would be OK tabling the request for a short amount of time to allow residents to be notified. He said it will also give the council time to discuss the parking issues with businesses and residents on the street and clarify some questions.
Caccamo was the only councilor to vote in opposition of tabling the agenda item. Ward 5 Councilor John Krol was absent.