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May 9, 2013

Board to reconsider downtown parking change in Peabody

PEABODY — A small change in downtown parking has led to a big controversy.

Mayor Ted Bettencourt won support from the City Council last month for a plan to squeeze down the size of a “bump-out” on Main Street across from the Peabody Institute Library, thereby creating two more parking spaces. (Bump-outs extend the width of the sidewalk while narrowing the street.)

The mayor described the change as an effort to help downtown retailers.

Despite the mayor’s personal appearance before the council, four of 10 members voted against the plan. They cited the need to maintain the configuration created by experts seeking a downtown safer for drivers and, in particular, pedestrians.

Now, Councilor Dave Gravel has asked for reconsideration, meaning there will be another vote on the measure at tonight’s meeting. He’s hoping he can win over some of the councilors who voted to support the mayor in April.

Safety is his major concern. “This was discussed with a lot of intensity,” he said, noting that the bump-out, slated to be reduced from 60 feet to 20, was designed to prevent vehicles from queuing in two lanes, thereby increasing safety.

Gravel has requested, through the Community Development office, an opinion on what this change will mean in terms of safety from the consultants hired to design the downtown renovations.

Downtown real estate developer Arthur Gordon has written to the City Council to back the mayor’s plan.

“The two parking spaces are crucial to the livelihoods of several small business people and their workers,” he wrote the council. He named five retailers hoping for the increased patronage that two more parking spaces might bring, including New Life Cuts Barbershop, Teresa’s Crafters Boutique, Brazcom Wireless metroPCS, Peabody Vacuum Center and Pat’s Discount.

“The businesses’ urgent appeal to City Hall to restore two parking spaces was a cry for help,” Gordon wrote.

If the mayor’s plan passes once more tonight the issue can’t be raised again until a new council session beginning next January, Gravel said.

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