By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — While the town might have ample parking in downtown municipal lots, members of the Derry Downtown Committee say the lack of visibility and perceived security of the lots prevent people from using them to their fullest potential.
Recent improvement efforts have centered on the Abbott Court lot, where the town provides more than 60 free parking spaces just off Broadway.
“We’re going to make it our primary focus at this moment in time to make sure the Abbott Court lot is clearly labeled and signed, well lit and a little more safe,” said downtown committee member Michael Gendron on Wednesday.
Since a downtown walk with key town officials and stakeholders in September, Derry Public Works Director Mike Fowler said the town has replaced several light bulbs in the Abbott Court lot and along East and West Broadway and recently removed graffiti from the stairs at Abbott Court.
Fowler said staff have been working for several years to keep up both bulbs that burn out normally and those that are broken by groups of young people armed with slingshots and rocks.
“It’s been a constant battle trying to stay on top of that down there,” Fowler said of the Abbott Court lot.
Downtown committee member David Nelson said some people worry about their personal safety or the safety of their vehicles in a lot where groups of young people often congregate.
“Especially women and children, but even occasionally men, may feel intimidated by what they feel is a remote or poorly lit parking with youths hanging out and having a good time that may be perceived as threatening,” Nelson said.
Rhonda Cairns, owner of Le Beaderie at 6 West Broadway just above the Abbott Court lot, said she and some of her employees have had their cars vandalized in the nearby municipal lot. Now they park on the side of the building where they can keep an eye on their vehicles from their storefront, she said.
“There are kids out there all the time, and we don’t really go down there anymore,” Cairns said. “We’re females and its a gathering spot and has been for a while.”
Derry police Capt. Vern Thomas said his department receives between three and four calls each week to the Abbott Court lot, often for complaints of excessive noise or fowl language.
“It’s not rampant crime, but we patrol that area heavily and are through there all the time,” Thomas said. “But we have to balance their right to be in a public place and whatever is going on there that might bother other people.”
Gendron said the committee is hoping that as the lots are better lit or more often used, some of the safety concerns associated with municipal parking will subside.
Up next, the town will add more signs to clearly identify municipal parking lots, including those at Abbott Court and Wall Street, Fowler said.
Fowler has said he is hoping to place large signs at each lot with designs consistent with the directional “P” signs already on East and West Broadway. After getting a consensus approval from the downtown committee, Fowler said it would take just a few weeks to have signs in place.
Nelson is currently working with town staff on a parking survey that will combine information about available parking with the parking demands associated with individual businesses represented visually on a map of downtown.
“I hope this will provide some data for the stakeholders and policy makers in order to prioritize what things can be done to address the issues,” he said. “Obviously it would be ideal to create parking immediately adjacent to where people want it.”
After those likely pedestrian traffic patterns have been outlined, Gendron said he hopes the town would add more lighting and signs along pathways to particularly hot spots.
But Fowler said that large infrastructure improvements will take time and money.
“We are definitely working with the downtown committee to come up with creative solutions to solve these problems because on the other side of the coin are the costs associated with these ideas,” Fowler said. “Signs don’t cost a lot, but structural improvements do and so we have to temper our response.”