AYER — A consultant from the Cecil Group went before the selectmen this week to give an update on efforts to address the “parking deficit” in downtown Ayer.
“Your town center needs more parking in order to be successful,” said David Cecil.
Specifically, he said the problem is that rail commuters park there, which subjects spaces available to local merchants. To address that, he suggested the selectmen focus on securing two remote locations that would add approximately 300 spaces downtown.
While the specifics of that plan have yet to be determined, Cecil suggested the town focus on its criteria for that solution and let the market respond.
Cecil was before the board with the criteria outlined.
Community and Economic Development Director Shaun Suhoski was seeking the selectmen’s endorsement, so the criteria could be referred to the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority (MART) for development of request for proposals (RFPs).
MART is expected to manage/maintain the facility once built.
However, there was clear concern from the selectmen that decision-making stay local and that any RFPs go through them before being issued.
Having specified that in their motion to accept the criteria, they agreed to endorse them.
In making his presentation to the board, Cecil estimated that six or seven downtown locations fit that prepared criteria.
Among the stipulations are that the location be less than a quarter-mile from the station, not be in the middle of a residential neighborhood or directly abutting Main Street, and not add another rail crossing or negatively impact the historic character of the downtown area.
Further, Cecil said the maximum height for any new parking would be a single-story deck.
One of the locations focused on was the rail trail parking lot, where he said a deck could increase available parking from 70 to 160 spaces. He added that this location is already under public ownership (Department of Conservation and Recreation) and would not entail land acquisition, which would be a big cost factor.
Cecil preferred not to reveal the other locations identified by the study at this point, but he agreed to forward that information to the selectmen for their next meeting.
Overall, he expressed confidence a solution could be found.
“We think there are so many ways it could be done, you’re likely to have success with this,” he said. “No harm done if nobody comes forward, but I think somebody will.”
On the rail trail location, several concerns were raised, including whether another traffic light would be required there and how it would affect traffic near the frequently congested Main Street/Park Street intersection.
Selectman Pauline Conley suggested they hold a public hearing to update the town.
However, the other members were inclined to wait until more specifics on potential sites are available.
The discussion over downtown parking has been ongoing since the award of $3.5 million in state and federal funds to upgrade the commuter rail station and parking last year.
Initially, there had been talk of a 350-car parking lot, but that idea was shot down by intense local opposition.
Since then, the Cecil Group has been working to explore alternatives.