A very unhappy public sat through yet another convoluted rationalization to build a third parking garage at taxpayer expense.

What we didn't hear are the real issues and solutions to address them. The real problems are twofold. First, is the employee parking issue. A great deal of the downtown is now home to restaurants. Waiters, waitresses, dishwashers and busboys cannot afford to pay high monthly employee parking fees. Building an expensive garage will aggravate this, not improve it.   Employers must pay for these employees and insist they park where they are suppose to.  It is the cost of doing business here.
 
Secondly, when people complain that they cannot find a place to park, often what they mean is  “I could not find a place to park close to where I wanted to go.” Another large garage in a somewhat remote location does not solve this issue. The Parking Authority stated the lot behind CVS is “too far away.” The Post Office Lot is essentially the same distance away from the center yet somehow this is an option?

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Perhaps the most disconcerting comment of the evening was delivered by Mayor Dickson who said we need to build a garage to attract ratables. Build it and they will come? This coming from the same person who pushed for converting our free parking to pay lots. This plan has failed in many regards. It did not generate the anticipated revenues, exceeded operating costs and drove users out of town to free parking in New Providence, Chatham and Madison. The project cost about $1.5 million including the “Deforest beautification” and you want us to spend millions and millions more?
 
The ground floor retail footprint in the CRBD is fixed so any redevelopment would bring only more office. Why would we want that, and why should we the taxpayers spend millions of dollars to subsidize the enrichment of private developers? The governing body has no right to gamble with the the taxpayers' dollars.  Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us.

A garage on the Post Office Lot will be another dismal failure. It is too remote, and too many people simply do not like to use garages. I believe a multi-pronged approach would serve our city far better. Several years ago, I proposed putting a grade level deck over the depressed existing lot next to the train station owned by DOT. It would put the user parking where it is needed the most, and could greatly improve the aesthetics of this area. DOT could be promised more commuter parking, something they greatly want in return. This could be accomplished by adding another level to the existing tiered garage and committing some number of spaces for commuter parking.  Out of town parking generates significantly higher revenues than any other parking.
 
Last, is the “K” lot behind CVS. Given the grade elevations, this lot in conjunction with CVS could be replaced with a two level lot, with the lower level at the Deforest grade and the upper level essentially where the current level is. Each level would have its own entry/exit (as would the RR lot) eliminating the need for ramps which erode efficiency. Put employee parking here, freeing up other spaces for downtown users.

Bringing in more ratables can be accomplished without taxpayer subsidies. We have two such opportunities. Five year ago, Summit adopted new zoning ordinances for the Broad Street and Morris Ave/River Road corridors. The development community universally criticized these ordinances. Since nothing has happened in either location, it demonstrates that the ordinances have failed. It is  time to amend these ordinances to attract new ratables. The future of the Merck Campus is still somewhat unclear and should be a major consideration in any Morris Avenue redevelopment.

Building a massive, industrial looking parking garage on the Post Office lot is not an answer to either of the  problems discussed above, and building one at Deforest/Woodland is absolutely unthinkable.

Mike Vernotico