NEWBURYPORT — The Newburyport Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove 125 parking spaces from the central waterfront in September, a move intended to encourage drivers to park in the new parking garage.
The parking spaces would be removed from the Redevelopment Authority’s East and West lots on Sept. 16, with preliminary work from the Department of Public Services beginning a week earlier.
When issuing the permit to build the new Titcomb Street parking garage, the Planning Board included a condition that the city must remove at least 100 parking spaces from the central waterfront to make room for an expanded waterfront park, which has long been in the works and is one of the main results expected from the Redevelopment Authority's impending dissolution.
Planning Director Andy Port emphasized on Tuesday that the spaces must be removed in time for a mid-September traffic study that will gauge the parking garage's impact on the flow of vehicles through Market Square. He said officials predict it will ease traffic, which is often extremely dense on busy summer days.
The Redevelopment Authority displayed a tentative plan for the expanded waterfront park at the meeting Tuesday. Mayor Donna Holaday said removal of the spaces is also meant to show residents "the park is coming after decades" of planning.
When asked by authority Chair Andrew Sidford when work on the expanded park would start, Holaday said it would begin "as soon as the NRA is dissolved," at which point the city would "immediately put out a (request for proposals) for someone to design the park."
Some residents expressed concern about removing the spaces and suggested temporary closures while the parking study is being done.
"I'm not ready to see the parking spaces taken away until there's a full plan for the park," said resident Peter Fitzsimmons, recommending that the city only close the lots on upcoming weekends.
Matt Coogan, the mayor's chief of staff, said removing the spaces is necessary to get residents and visitors used to the idea of using the parking garage.
"The sooner this change happens, the sooner people will adjust their daily life," Coogan said. "By eliminating the spaces now, it will give people time to adjust and it does happen very quickly."
Holaday added that the city will create an “interim park” in the area, where tables, chairs and games would soon be placed while awaiting the approval process for expansion.
Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.