Communication breakdown stalls Summer Street parking measure

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PITTSFIELD — A decision on whether to extend free parking in the new Summer Street lot will have to wait.

City councilors on Tuesday discussed a recent recommendation by the Ordinances and Rules Committee that would allow free parking for 90 minutes in the lot while the city takes a closer look at the larger downtown parking plan. Currently, only the first 30 minutes are free.

But council President Peter Marchetti told councilors that the vote couldn't happen until the city solicitor incorporated amendments to the traffic order that councilors made during last week's meeting.

The newly metered lot replaces the former Columbus Avenue parking garage, which was recently demolished. The second level had been closed since 2014, but parking on the lower level remained free after the city launched its metered parking program in early 2017.

Councilor John Krol brought the measure forward in response to outcry from Berkshire Nautilus owner Jim Ramondetta, who argues paid hourly parking in the new lot hurts his business.

Marchetti told councilors that none of them asked City Solicitor Stephen Pagnotta to update the order following their meeting. Councilors Krol and Melissa Mazzeo said they can't recall having to do that before. Still, Marchetti said there was no legal order prepared for councilors to vote on.

Krol challenged Marchetti about the lack of a revised order, but Marchetti snapped back.

"It's not my job to do your work," he said.

Instead, councilors took time to debate an amendment proposed by Mazzeo that would make all downtown surface lots free for 90 minutes while the city takes a deeper look at the larger parking plan. She said too many businesses are hurting and they should provide some relief while they review the larger plan.

"Maybe we're making great money, but they're not," she said, citing businesses like the Highland Restaurant.

Mazzeo's motion failed 5-6.

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Councilors also debated the merits of hiring a consultant to again review the city's parking plan and make recommendations. Mayor Linda Tyer told councilors the consultant would cost about $30,000.

"I think we can sit down and work this out ourselves," Councilor Chris Connell said.

But Councilor Nick Caccamo said councilors' opinions on the topic are all over the board, and the council lacks the required expertise.

"If we're just going to piecemeal, we're going to create far more confusion for residents than already exists now," he said.

Councilor Earl Persip agreed.

"Let's hire someone who professionally does this so we have clear data," he said. "I think we're kinda jumping the gun a little bit, here."

But Krol argued councilors are elected to make tough decisions — "We all decided to be in these seats for a reason" — and the parking plan's deployment has lacked uniformity from the start. He said that making the lots free for 90 minutes would attract more off-street parking, leaving spaces available along North Street.

"We've always been doing this piecemeal," he said. "This has been piecemeal since the very beginning."

Councilor Pete White said he'd like to see a consultant review the plans in light of changes along North Street over the years since the 2014 report came out.

"Let's find out what's best for Pittsfield today," he said.

Amanda Drane can be reached at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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