May 14, 2010

For library, parking plot slow to develop

Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Sometimes no news is neither good nor bad; it's just frustrating.
For the Downtown Committee, waiting to find out whether the town has interest in purchasing a property for sale next to the Derry Public Library for future parking has been a waiting game. For some, the silence since the initial March 4 request has been deafening.
I'm disappointed with the council and the town, not to even acknowledge that the property has been offered at a discounted rate by the seller, who wants to help the town,” said Downtown Committee Chair Michael Gendron.
Yesterday word was circulating that, without any word from the town, the seller was ready to put the house on the open market.
At the May 4 council meeting, Gendron spoke briefly during public comment, asking the council for an answer to the original question, of whether the town would like to buy the lot.
This (property owner) has been patiently awaiting a response. To this date, we have not had a conversation with you folks, and we would like a yes or a no or a maybe,” Gendron said.
The property is assessed at about $189,000, but the seller would offer it to the town for about $155,000. During the March meeting, public discussion over possible purchase of the property was diverted to a non-public session, but library trustee Elizabeth Ives was allowed to speak generally about the need for more parking, which she said is critical.
Currently the library offers 13 parking spots and two handicapped spaces. Ives said the municipal lot on the far side of the Masonic Temple helps, but also provides parking for other downtown businesses and library staff, and is still insufficient on days when popular library programs draw upwards of 75 people.
At the March meeting, Public Works Director Mike Fowler reported to the council that the property could sustain up to 20 parking spots.
Strategic options weighed by the Downtown Committee included having the town buy the property in two installments over two years at a cost of $90,000 per year, or for the library to use $40,000 from its capital reserve fund, with the town paying the balance.
Yesterday, Gendron said the library faithful have lately considered other options, like pooling resources and raising the money independently, then fund-raising to pay it back.
Ultimately, cash flow is the problem, said Councilor Neil Wetherbee, who is the council liaison to the library. He said the question should be on Tuesday's council agenda for a vote.
The delayed reaction to the property owner's generous offer was due to timing, said Wetherbee – the council had to hammer out its 2012 budget before it could consider making any commitment to purchasing land.
That said,it's a good price and a good opportunity, but I would have a hard time in this economic climate spending that kind of money for parking,” Wetherbee said. “Especially after the firefighters union and the town managers forfeited cost of living raises, it would be difficult to turn around and buy a property like that.”
Add to the purchase price the additional cost of razing the building and paving, and it quickly adds up,Wetherbee said.
Meanwhile, there are other potential parking opportunities in the downtown area, closer to restaurants and community centers, that should be weighed against the value and volume of 20 spaces next to the library, Wetherbee said.
We should be getting the most bang for our buck. No question, parking is an issue. But given the various options, if there is only one parking project we can do, the question is which parking project will it be?” Wetherbee said.
Gendron said he understands the dilemma, and knows that the vacant lot next to the Adams Memorial Opera House has been a downtown parking dream for much longer than the Marlboro Road lot.
Mostly, he would just like some news, good or bad. Indifference isn't working for him.
The unfortunate thing is, if the economy or the town budget weren't so bad, this wouldn't be a discussion. But it's a ridiculously bad year. By the same token, there comes a time when you have to suck it up and do things when the opportunity arises,” Gendron said. “We think this is worth doing.”

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