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Residents Air Grievances on Deming Park Improvements
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:35PM / Tuesday, September 20, 2022
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Homeowner Lisa Houghtlin expresses her concerns about the parking lot plans for Deming Park at Monday's public hearing. Neighbors are worried that a one-way exit from the park will block their driveways.

Parks manager James McGrath explains the reasoning behind the design for the new parking lot and one-way entrance and exit. 

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city and other stakeholders say parking is a long-standing issue at Deming Park and want to address it with a larger, one-way parking lot. Abutters are skeptical.

Around 15 residents attended a public hearing for the proposed improvements to the park on Monday at Sacred Heart Church. It was facilitated by the Parks Commission and Ward 3 Councilor Kevin Sherman after a request from residents.

"We're here tonight because we're sort of pausing this effort to make certain that folks like you all have an opportunity to weigh in," Park, Open Space, and Natural Resource Program Manager James McGrath said.

"We understood that there was some concern from you all so we're happy to pause this process to hear from you all. Ultimately, we all want to see a plan for Deming Park that works."

The plan includes a one-way entrance into the parking lot from current driveway and an exit through a city-owned right of way across from the intersection of Newell and Lyman Street.

Residents who use the paved right of way to access parking on their property expressed concerns about the plan. Reportedly, three households use it as a driveway.

McGrath explained that this has been a pedestrian access into the park for many years. Further, he said the city did research and found that there are no existing approvals for driveway access off it.

He clarified that it is a city-owned property and one resident added "but also our driveway."

"I'm not suggesting in any way shape or form that the city would be looking to remove your access off of the right of way to the homes on either side of it. We're going to work with these existing driveways to make certain that you and you can access your homes off Newell Street, but also accommodate the exit of parked vehicles," McGrath said.

"How exactly we're going to do that remains to be seen but there is a certain design workaround that can make that happen and through this process, I think that we would probably formalize in a legal way, your rights to access, over the city's right of way, your driveways to your homes. That's something that I think has to happen, probably should have happened when your homes were built."

Lisa Houghtlin, the owner of 130-132 Newell St., said her tenant deals with a "nightmare" on a daily basis and that people will "fly through" the exit without regard to the abutters' parking.  

Illegal parking on Newell Street was also a point of concern because it blocks residents' view while pulling out of the right of way.

"What happens is they park, all the parents stand there, I mean, whatever, they have no respect for anybody or anything except for themselves, they park at the end of their driveway, my tenants can never get out because you park there and now my tenant can't get out," she said.

"You're talking about ambulances. What if she has an emergency and she has to get out? I get you're going to tar it but I don't think you realize it's not as wide as you think it is so what's going to happen when somebody comes down there and parks right there and she needs to get out to go to work? Or the other tenants upstairs? These people need to get out of there."

Pittsfield Babe Ruth Treasurer Alan Gutzmer pointed out that one of the goals of the plan is to get rid of the illegal parking in front of their houses. He said he has always wondered why there aren't more tickets on cars in "no parking" zones but there is no other option.

Other residents suggested moving the Little League and Babe Ruth baseball to another park in the city and expressed concerns about the relocation of a practice field to the southwest corner of the park. 

There was also a concern raised about a reduction of green space to accommodate a larger parking lot.

"Is this a perfect plan? No. In a perfect world, I don't think anyone would want to take a small green space in the middle of a dense neighborhood, put two very active youth baseball programs and a playground and all the other activity that goes on," McGrath said.

"There might be a better way to organize that but this is our Deming Park in this neighborhood and we're trying out best here and it may not work for everyone but this is why we're trying to take some input and see if we could design around some of these concerns."

Elm Street resident Judi Clemons is concerned that people use her street to drop kids off at the practice field and cause traffic hazards.

It was pointed out that the players will likely be dropped off at the main parking lot because they will be utilizing the practice field before a game. Initial plans included a small parking lot off Elm Street and a driveway where there is a currently a pedestrian walkway but traffic studies proved that it was not feasible and it was scrapped.

The Public Services Department this winter hired engineers Fuss & O'Neill to survey the situation. Stakeholders within the park and representatives from the Parks Commission looked at a number of different concept ideas to increase internal parking and address other issues.

The Parks Commission gave the city the OK to move forward with the project at its June meeting and in July, voted on a final concept.

It includes a new lot with 68 spaces, a new sidewalk into and throughout the park, and a relocated practice field and batting cage. The plan also aims to address pedestrian safety, stormwater, accessibility, and provide opportunities for improvements to the playground area.

A traffic engineering study was done and showed that there were safe stopping sight distances and interaction sight distances in the new configuration. 

McGrath listed the challenges that the city faces with the park.

"The current entrance and exit configuration is dangerous. It's a really tricky intersection where (Newell Street) and (Meadow Lane) come together. Sightlines are really poor in that location. The existing gravel parking lot is undersized for the current use at the park. There are a lot of potholes that form because it's a gravel lot. Drainage is inadequate across the whole lot," he said.

"We often find that folks visiting the park if the parking lot is full are parking along the access driveway. That poses a real problem not only for circulation into the park, for others coming in, for emergency vehicles, and we also have two abutting residential properties right off of that driveway. There's currently no formal, adequate, and appropriate handicap parking available in that lot and there's no sidewalk that extends into Deming Park so it's virtually inaccessible for those with mobility issues."

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