NEWBURYPORT — The waterfront possesses enough parking to permit commercial development, according to the findings in the draft of a parking-impact study released by the Newburyport Redevelopment Authority last night.
The study by John M. Burke, a Marion consultant who once served as parking director in Portsmouth, N.H., states that if the NRA’s proposed development along the Merrimack River is built, there is enough parking, both on-street and off-street, within a five-minute walk of the waterfront to absorb vehicle demand on all but the busiest summer nights and special-event weekends.
Burke said that parking spots turn over constantly downtown and that it is rare when there is a lack of spaces in this city.
About two dozen area residents attended the meeting, with some expressing displeasure that the NRA is proceeding with its plan. But all listened intently to the results of the study, which was made public for the first time.
The NRA recently approved a tentative plan by Union Studio of Providence, R.I., to make significant changes to the 4.2 acres it controls along the river. Much of that land is currently being used as public parking, with kiosks.
That tentative plan calls for two commercial buildings, plus an increase in the amount of park space and landscaping.
The two structures, on either side of Market Landing Park, would include shops, restaurants and condominiums. They would also offer space for the offices of the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce & Industry and for public restrooms.
Because its lots currently provide a significant amount of parking, the NRA commissioned a parking study that would assess the impact of its plans.
The NRA proposal includes the following features, according to the report:
69,850 square feet of commercial-residential development
48,000 square feet of upper-residential condominiums, 33 units with two dedicated parking spaces per unit under the buildings
21,850 square feet of ground-floor commercial space, split evenly between retail and restaurant use
About 191 total surface parking lot spaces to serve the commercial development and general public
The report states, “The proposed development plan meets the parking requirements of the city of Newburyport’s zoning regulations by providing 191 total surface parking spaces, which far exceeds the development project peak parking demand of 101 spaces.”
While it appears that parking places would be “lost,” Burke said they are not currently being filled to capacity except on warm holiday weekends.
As part of its parking utilization study, the survey tallied 1,616 public parking spaces downtown, with 923 on-street and 693 off-street.
The following sites were used in the study: State Street lot (31 spaces, three-hour limit), Prince Place lot (44 spaces, all day), Green Street lot (229 spaces, three-hour limit), Waterfront Trust lot, (53 spaces, all day), NRA West lot (115 spaces, all day) and the NRA East lot (221 spaces, all day).
One of the variables of any parking study is that some parking spots are used more than once during a given 24-hour period, Burke said.
The report stated that “the total on-and-off street public parking system operates under effective capacity with a surplus,” except during the peak weekend events.
On peak weekend evenings, the study said private off-street parking was less than 50 percent utilized, “with some private lots, school, bank and commercial lots, nearly empty.”
In its analysis, the study stated that with the development, there would be a “145-space reduction in off-street public parking supply.”
Also, “long-term, off-street public parking (over three hours allowed) is reduced from 433 to 288 spaces.”
The report offered recommendations for the city as it focuses on parking in the future, not necessarily including the NRA project.
In the short term, the report recommends the city “lease or purchase or construct 60- to 80-space surface parking lot to increase supply of long-term, off-street parking and support city’s growing permit-parking program.”
In the longer term, it recommends the city “continue development planning currently under way for new downtown public parking garage to address projected future parking needs of the downtown. The parking garage will also address the identified lack of reserve capacity for the post-development condition.”
Burke said that municipal leaders should encourage valet parking among restaurant owners so that more visitors can be accommodated.
He also suggested that the city meet with leaders of banks, churches and fraternal organizations to determine if their parking lots can be used during peak hours.