Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Save the Trees, Protect the River

The list of City meetings on the Middletowneye does not include the meeting of the Public Works Commission on Wed. Dec. 9, at 5:30 p.m. in the Public Works Department. On the agenda is the Melilli Parking Lot Plan, which calls for major regrading and the removal of trees. For more information on this issue, read the previous post and reader comments on this topic.


Brian Stewart said...

At least a dozen members of the community and representatives of various city entities attended the meeting of the Public Works Commission this evening. They learned that $400,000-450,000 had been budgeted originally in 2003 for the Melilli Plaza plan. Owing to various changes and improvements, the anticipated cost was now to be $800,000 or more. Chief components of the increased cost were:

o regrading to join the upper (Melilli Plaza) and lower (municipal building, with access on Dekoven Drive) parking lots;
o electronic access infrastructure;
o improved lighting;
o increased support for persons with disabilities.

The project was to go out to bid after Christmas. After a few questions by the commissioners, public comment was invited. Among those speaking were representatives of the Jonah Center (John Hall); the Conservation Commission (Kate Miller); Urban Forestry; Planning & Zoning Commissioner Catherine Johnson; and several members of the community. Ms. Johnson asked a question, quickly establishing that the proposed parking lot would have 260 spaces, the same as the current lot (although she disputed the number of current spaces, which she said was over 290).

I will summarize here the points that were offered, combining them and summarizing for conciseness:

o A million dollars for a parking lot the same size with fewer shade trees seems an inappropriate expenditure, especially in a time of financial stress;
o Stormwater runoff should be treated before discharge into the Connecticut River;
o The comment, attributed to Public Works Director Bill Russo in a Courant article this morning, that stormwater runoff "is treated and will continue to be" is incorrect (Mr. Russo disowned the comment, attributing it to Planning & Zoning Director "Bill Warner's office");
o Parking lot Surfaces ought to be pervious, to reduce runoff;
o The trees, London Plane Trees, are sizeable and ought to be kept for their shade and beauty;
o The loss of trees throughout the citiy ought to be reversed;
o Priorities ought to be to make the project appealing, pedestrian-friendly, and environmentally benign.
o Impact on/improvement of the link with Harbor Park should be considered.

After brief discussion, the commissioners weighed in with their opinions. Commissioner Bauer said the plan was bad and we should "pull the plug" on it. Commissioner Klattenberg said that cost had escalated to the point that it is a problem in itself. He felt it was not "in the cards" to fund the increase from $400,000 to $900,000. He felt scaling back the project, perhaps through abandoning the costly interconnection of the upper and lower lots, would be necessary. At the same time, he also said that the city's "signature parking lot" should not look like a Wal-Mart parking lot. The Commissioners agreed that it makes sense to involve the new Parking Director, who begins work in January, in any final decision. Chairman Streeto said he would like to hear from the Business District and the Chamber of Commerce. For these reasons, the Commissioners agreed to delay the project, requesting a scaled-back proposal that addressed concerns of aesthetics, environmental friendliness, and access, both for persons with disabilities and for bicycles, at reduced cost.

Others who attended, kindly fill in detail I have omitted and correct errors you may find.

Anonymous said...

This has not even gone out to bid, there is no way in hell it will cost $1 million. I am a contractor and I build things like this all the time. The lot can include oil water seporators etc and more trees absolutly not a big deal. Connecting the lots makes all the sence in the world, city employees shouldnt have their own exclusive parking lot, open it up to everyone. Right now because of the separation no one uses the employee lot even when they arent working..

Brian Stewart said...

Anonymous, you may be right, and I hope you will submit a bid on the project when it is eventually put out for bid. But those present, including City Engineer Robert Dobmeier, said that it was the extensive regrading that was partly responsible for the run-up in cost and the loss of trees. And the regrading would necessitate repaving the recently paved lower lot, further adding to the cost. Mr. Bauer noted that better signage might increase use of the lower (city employee) lot after hours. The possibility of a ramp connecting the lots as a compromise was also discussed.

Expressing my own opinion, I have to say that it would be convenient to join the lots in principle. But doing so for no net gain in parking does not appear worth the expense. I am surprised if enterprising folks haven't discovered and used the employees' lot, given the supposed parking shortage.

I like your suggestion that stormwater cleanup and additional trees are no problem or great expense.

Jane said...

Once again, I would like to mention how helpful it would be if people didn't hide behind "Anonymous" -- anyone who thinks that lot can be done for so much less money ought to step forward and advertise him/herself.

Anonymous said...

Well, Jane (I'm sorry, I didn't get your last name)did you ever stop to think that maybe if people gave their names they might suffer the consequences--you know--bosses, fellow workers, etc.

John Hall said...

According to Bill Russo, a lot of the expense was also driven by the high tech parking electronics and safety lighting.