ST. ALBANS CITY — At Monday night’s St. Albans City Council meeting, the council approved further changes to the parking on Maiden Lane and agreed to fund a study regarding changing Maiden Lane from one-way south to one-way north.
The council voted to enter into an agreement with the St. Albans Free Library allowing the library to relocate its six parking spaces to the street in an area that is partially the city’s right of way and partially library property. The spots will remain for the exclusive use of the library in perpetuity.
At its December meeting, the council had agreed to change the parking in front of the former Owl Club and Smith residence to diagonal parking. The Connor Group, which owns the property, would construct 10 spaces if Maiden Lane were to be shifted to one-way north, with five of those spaces being retained for the exclusive use of the Connor Group’s future tenants for 10 years. As with the library, the spaces are being constructed partially in the city’s right of way.
If Maiden Lane remains one-way going south, the city’s traffic experts recommended that only nine spaces be built to prevent cars using the northernmost spot from backing across the crosswalk at the end of Maiden Lane.
Whether the Connor Group is ultimately able to build nine parking spaces or ten, five of the spots will be set aside for the use of library patrons for 10 years. City manager Dominic Cloud had recommended that the spaces be reserved for general city use at the council’s December meeting, and the council had agreed.
However, the library board of trustees indicated last night that they would not be willing to invest in the new parking spaces unless they were getting a net gain in parking. The project is expected to cost the library $30,000 to $50,000, depending upon the cost of the landscaping and lighting. The library has sufficient capital reserve funds to pay for the project.
Librarian MaryPat Larrabee assured the council that library staff, who already park off-site, would use none of the new 11 spaces. The library serves 100 patrons per day. Ward 5 Alderman Ryan Doyle pointed out that the library is jointly owned by the city and town and not all of its patrons live within walking distance.
Ward 1 Alderman Tim Hawkins raised concerns about the enforcement of the parking exclusions on Maiden Lane.
Mike Connor of the Connor Group said that if there is someone who is routinely parking in the Connor Group spots, that person would politely be asked to stop doing so and if they continued then the Connor Group would have them towed.
Jim Pelkey, Ward 2 Alderman, expressed concern about the precedent. “Nowhere else in St. Albans have we designated specific parking for a specific business on a public street,” he said. Pelkey also raised questions concerning legal liability if a private business has a car towed on a public street, even if the space is posted for use only by customers or staff of that business.
Doyle supported the change, stating, “I think it’s a good thing for the community to make sure that resource is accessible.”
However, he also commented that he would like the city to nail down policy details such as enforcement.
Sue Prent, one of the appellants who has appealed the Connor Group permit to demolish the Owl Club and construct a new office building, read a statement saying she and the other appellants would not be challenging the parking arrangement.
“Although we continue to believe that those changes will have an adverse impact on the historic downtown in general and on our neighborhood in particular, we feel it would be counterproductive to devote any of our limited resources to a separate appeal. Absent broader knowledge of the situation, the judge will be inclined to accept the opinion of the elected City Council as to what represents the best interests of the people of St. Albans,” Prent stated.
The appellants and their supporters asked the city to have a professional study done of the traffic and parking on Maiden Lane before approving the requested parking changes. Last night, Prent expressed astonishment that the city council would approve a traffic study before changing the direction on Maiden Lane but not prior to changing the parking.
Anne Levy, of nearby High Street, had also asked for a parking study prior to approval of any changes on Maiden Lane. Levy wanted a study of the parking situation in that corner of the city, which is filled with students from BFA who park on nearby streets all day long.
“We have Bank Street which is absolutely impassable by two cars on even a sunny day,” said Levy.
The westbound lane of Bank Street between Church and Lincoln Streets is generally filled with parked cars during weekday business hours, leaving drivers traveling in two directions one lane to share.
The Ace Hardware store, now under construction on the corner of Congress and Main Streets, will add more traffic to the area, Levy noted.
The city’s traffic firm, Vanasse, Hangen, Brustlin, Inc. (VHB), proposed to do an analysis that would include trip counts during peak hours at the intersections on either end of Maiden Lane and to incorporate data collected for their work on Federal Street to evaluate how the traffic flow will change if the direction of Maiden Lane is changed to northbound and whether drivers would use a changed Maiden Lane to avoid the Fairfield and Main Street intersection.
Council members felt the study was not extensive enough, with Hawkins noting that unless the study incorporates the projected impacts from the Ace Hardware store it would be out of date within months.
Ace owner Gordon Winters agreed to provide the city with the traffic study done for his project to include in the Maiden Lane study.
The council also asked that the study look at the potential impact on Congress and Bank intersections with Main Street.
Although the original proposal from VHB was priced at $1,500, the council approved the study with no cost attached.
On a related note, John Casavant raised a question about the continued presence of Peter Ford on the Planning Commission and Design Advisory Board even though Ford is one of the appellants challenging the Connor Group permit.
Casavant said his understanding was that Ford had taken action against the city.
Ford has appealed the permit for the Connor Group project to the Vermont Environmental Court as a neighboring landowner. Under Vermont law, the environmental court will now reconsider the permit from scratch with the judge taking the place of the city’s Development Review Board.
The city is not a party to the appeal and has chosen not to participate in the court proceedings. The city has not sent lawyers to the hearings nor made any filings in the case.
It is not clear why no member of the council or city staff provided this information at the meeting.