Pittsfield City Council approves $4.9 million in capital projects

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PITTSFIELD -- The City Council on Tuesday approved $4.9 million in capital projects, including $3 million for street projects and $500,000 toward implementing a consultant's recommendations concerning the downtown parking system.

The unanimous approval came after lengthy debate, much of it centered on parking recommendations, which followed a $75,000 study by parking consultants Nelson Nygaard, who worked on the report over the past year in conjunction with a committee of residents and city officials.

Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop and others said that, while they were impressed with the comprehensive parking system recommendations, they believe more outreach and public education must be done to explain it. Lothrop said he had heard from people who did not understand that parking meters are recommended for North Street and other areas after reading news reports of the plan on Saturday.

The councilor advocated sending the plan for further review by a council committee, saying the rollout of the new parking system would need public support to be successful.

The detailed study, which can be accessed under City Council agendas on the city's website, www.cityofpittsfield.org, proposes "demand-based pricing" for premium parking spaces, primarily along North Street, while eliminating time limits.

That means charging for spaces in the most sought-after areas of the downtown during daytime business hours, while allowing free or lower-cost spaces elsewhere to encourage their use by employees of businesses or agencies to free up more premium spaces. A free first half-hour of parking in premium spaces also has been suggested.

City Community Development Director Douglas Clark said he believes the consultant had done a good job of community outreach during the study, which began in the fall 2013. Public meetings sought input from the public, as did an online survey of parking issues and comments, he said, and the consultants worked closely with Downtown Pittsfield Inc. and downtown merchants.

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Clark said the authorization to borrow up to $500,000 would first go toward preparing a set of bid proposals for the "smart meter" system, signage for parking lots and spaces and to direct visitors to parking areas, an electronic license plate reading system to check for overtime parking and other improvements.

The meters, expected to be electronic and accept both currency and credit cards and possibly allow adding extra time from a cellphone, would cost up to $300,000.

"This does not end the discussion," Clark added, saying that decisions such as how much to charge for spaces in specific sections of the downtown can be altered as the system is implemented -- as well as at a later date if changes seem warranted based on parking habits.

A review of the parking management system for the downtown spaces, lots and parking garages also is underway, along with a review of zoning and other related considerations.

Also approved was $3 million for street work, which Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood said he hopes will be put out to bid early next year.

The capital package also included $1.2 million for replacement of an airport hazard beacon at Pittsfield Airport -- 95 percent of which will be reimbursed by the federal and state governments -- and $200,000 for Streetscape Phase 4 design work.

To reach Jim Therrien:
jtherrien@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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