AYER — With plans to establish a 350-space parking facility downtown while the town awaits state permission to use its preferred site, parking and retaining the train station were discussed by selectmen meeting Tuesday.
The topic was raised by town administrator Shaun Suhoski who acknowledged recent assurance from state Rep. Robert Hargraves that there were no longer plans to close the station, but the issue is open to resurfacing as long as the downtown’s parking shortage is not addressed.
”I’m not convinced we’ve avoided that over the long term,” he said.
Board Chairman Faye Morrison agreed, saying permission to use the Rail Trail parking lot from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation is the key.
”What has been in the paper is fine, but until we get an agreement from the Department of Conservation and Recreation we could be back to where we started from,” she said.
The starting point was back in October when the state announced plans for a number of measures to shorten commute times on the Fitchburg line. Those measures included consolidating Ayer’s station into a regional stop titled “Devens.”
At that time, Ayer officials were told by Mohammed Kahn, of the Montachusett Area Regional Transit (MART) authority, that the town could avoid the consolidation by improving its downtown parking. The town has approximately $5 million in state and federal grants to build a facility that would be administered by the authority, but currently has no place to put it.
The Rail Trail parking lot was identified as a potential solution some months back due to its proximity to the station, but town officials have been awaiting word from department since January. Further, it has been made clear to town officials that the grant money could migrate if the town cannot find a use for it.
Suhoski presented a memo on the topic, which outlined the two likely long-term scenarios. One included the station staying downtown, while the other included the regional Devens station.
While Suhoski said he was merely outlining the contingencies, it caused Selectman Paul Bresnahan to ask if he were suggesting they support a regional station.
The town should be leery of giving any impression it would be content with that scenario, said Selectman Frank Maxant.
”I think we’re stepping onto very thin ice when we start talking about anything other than improving parking,” he said.
”If DCR allows us to put parking on the Rail Trail, it’s a win-win for everyone,” said Suhoski.