March 4, 2014 at 6:00 AM
NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – For more than 35 years, there have been several attempts--none of them successful--to solve the shortage of parking in the downtown commercial district.
However, a recent detailed report issued by the borough’s Economic Development Committee outlines what its members hope will be viewed as a sensible and logical approach involving borough officials, business owners and property owners.
The first step is the development of an actionable downtown master plan with the objective to increase open access parking, pedestrian safety, improve traffic flow and encourage the re-development of the downtown shopping district.
That recommendation received unanimous Borough Council approval with the appropriation of $20,000 to Heyor, Gruel and Associated to conduct the study.
Councilman Gary Kapner, who along with Dr. Bob Robinson serves as liaison to the EDC, said that during the past few years there have been significant improvements in the downtown area.
“Some property owners have done a good job making their properties look good,” he said. As examples, Kapner cited the Village Shopping Center, Barth’s Market, McGrath’s Hardware and the Prestige Diner.
On the other hand, Kapner said, there are several downtown properties that have remained stagnant for years that have not been renovated or changed hands.
Kapner suggested that one of the reasons is that all of the parking with the exception of on-street and Borough Hall parking is controlled by private property owners.
“There’s a fair amount of property owners in the downtown area that are landlocked and don’t have sufficient parking to attract a tenant or a buyer,” Kapner said.
The councilman suggested that the difficulty the borough has had over the past two years in marketing a liquor consumption license lies more in the lack of adequate parking and not the $400,000 asking price or operating restrictions.
Kapner opined that a prospective restaurant owner was probably more inclined to purchase a property and invest in renovation, refurbishment and new fixtures as supposed to investing in a leased property. But then again, the issue of adequate parking raises its head.
Councilman Robinson said there are two borough-owned properties that hold the promise of some downtown parking relief.
First is a small borough owned property located behind Feathers Salon and Avenue Deli that boarders the shopping center and could yield as many as nine additional parking spaces. That effort could begin as early as this spring, Kapner said.
Robinson said a second opportunity for additional parking is to expand the Municipal Center parking lot located on Elkwood Avenue to accommodate 12 additional spaces. That effort could mesh nicely with current plans to renovate Lincoln Field which is across the street.
Ultimately, the solution to the downtown parking shortage lies with property and business owners and their desire to cooperate and work together for the benefit of all.
The EDC report recommended that the borough, using its impressive credit rating and access to low interest rates, bond several projects that would be re-paid by downtown property owners.
Those projects would include: paving the land behind Feathers and Avenue Deli; reduce the number of dumpsters by creating one or two dumpster enclosures along the South St. property lines; install a shared trash compactor, and cooking grease receptacle; remove the old McGrath’s dumpster enclosure; remove the barriers dividing the shopping center lot and Wells Fargo lot; and, remove the planters behind M&M Liquors. Those efforts would lead to increased parking availability.
In addition to paying the bond, property owners would agree to a shared/open parking agreement; stripe their lots to maximize parking spaces; improve traffic flow and lot connectivity based on recommendations by the borough engineer; agree to a single trash hauler; agree to a single snow removal company and truck the snow off-site; and, agree to fix-up their rear entrances.
Both council members Kapner and Robinson said they had been working closely with downtown business and property owners and expressed early enthusiasm that a pact could prevail.
“We’re very optimistic with the tenor that has been set with downtown property owners. They’re very receptive to new ideas and sharing,” Robinson said.