Parallel parking was the hot-button issue at a public hearing on Zoom Monday for Oak Bluffs streetscape plans, with several stakeholders opposing the proposed change.
The streetscape project — funded by $2.7 million that was approved by voters at the June 2020 town meeting — focuses on five key areas of downtown Oak Bluffs: Circuit Avenue North, Circuit Avenue South, Kennebec Avenue, Healey Square, and a portion of Lake Avenue.
The project is being designed by Waterfield Design Group designers Craig Miller and Timothy Wong. Overall the project will add new sidewalks, trash cans, streetlights, crosswalks, and provide accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The most contentious point of discussion was the parking situation on the north end of Circuit Avenue. Miller’s design calls for replacing diagonal parking with parallel from Giordano’s Restaurant up to Healey Square, which would eliminate 12 of the existing 28 spaces. The sidewalks on the street’s north end will also be widened significantly, by five to seven feet in some areas.
Diagonal parking would remain on the south end of Circuit Avenue from Healey Square down to Third World Trading Co., and a raised crosswalk would be added, but to make room for improvements to Healey Square, the south end of Circuit Avenue would lose seven spaces, and two parallel parking spaces would be added to the south end of Kennebec Avenue.
The plans also call for widening the street’s south end by one to two feet in some areas.
Aside from pavement and sidewalk improvements, Kennebec Avenue would mostly remain the same, but add another sidewalk on the east side of the street.
Streetscape committee member Amy Billings was opposed to the change in parking spaces. She said the plans should increase the sidewalk along the entire street by one to two feet rather than the major increase on one end of the street.
“I am just not a fan at all of losing 12 spaces plus seven spaces, in the hope of gaining spaces down at the harbor,” Billings said.
Mocha Mott’s co-owner Tim Doble said he supports the overall project and its improvements to the sidewalks, but said the parallel parking was a “horrible idea,” and would negatively affect his in-and-out coffee shop. He, along with several others commenting in the Zoom chat, agreed with Billings that the sidewalk all the way down the street should be increased evenly.
“Any swap of parking somewhere down on the harbor doesn’t do me, my business — selfishly — one bit of good. None, zero,” Doble said.
In addition to those who spoke Monday, a petition signed by more than 1,000 individuals opposed to parallel parking on Circuit Avenue was submitted to the committee.
While many of those who spoke opposed the parallel parking, some were in support, such as Erin Tiernan, who co-owns Eastaway and Basics Clothing.
“It does seem like it keeps being said a lot of the downtown business owners are not for this plan, and I think there’s more of us for it than have spoken up,” Tiernan said. “I do support the combination of the angled and parallel parking.”
Nancy’s owner Doug Abdelnour said there should be a survey of business owners on Circuit Avenue to understand what they want to see in the streetscape plans. “The safety of the pedestrians and wheelchairs and strollers trying to get by each other on three- and four-foot sidewalks needs to at some point be more important than a net loss of three or four parking spots throughout the entire plan,” Abdelnour said.
Sarah Omer, who owns Tangerine and co-owns Red Cat Kitchen, said she fully supported wider sidewalks. “The pedestrian experience helps us all more than our comfort with parking,” Omer said.
The project is at the “50 or 60 percent” design level stage, and still has several fine-tuning elements left for final design, such as tree species, street lamp types, drainage, sidewalk dimensions, and loading zone locations, Miller said.
Monday’s hearing drew testimony from various business owners, residents, and other stakeholders, all in favor of repairing and improving the town’s sidewalks, but at odds over how to do that.
To make up for the loss of parking, Miller’s plan calls for converting Lake Avenue to diagonal parking, which would add 13 spaces. Miller also moved a bike travel lane between the road and the parking spaces to maintain the strip of grass along the sidewalk.
The vast majority of business owners and residents supported Miller’s plans for a redesigned Healey Square with semicircular benches, open views, and access through the square, and a pavement lift near the crosswalk, but Miller said he received direction from the streetscape committee to leave Healey Square’s configuration as it exists, and only improve the pavement and foliage. “The streetscape committee gave us very direct guidance on how there was not an interest in changing the layout of Healey Square,” Miller said.
Streetscape committee member Brian Packish said the committee was originally working toward Miller’s open sightline layout, but recently turned back toward keeping the layout as is.
“I think most of that conversation was driven by a couple of things: one, the benches that are there in memory of folks, because they’re super-important to all of us, as well as all of the work that’s been done by Friends of Oak Bluffs in investment of those planters,” he said.
Corner Store owner Luke Debettencourt was also concerned about the loading zone placed outside his business, and suggested it be moved off Circuit Avenue to save some parking spaces.
Packish said the committee hopes to meet later this week to discuss Monday’s public hearing before going to the select board.
Miller explained that these were not concrete, definite designs, and it is entirely up to the public to decide what they want.
“It’s up to the public to say we either want this direction, a big change from what’s there today, or we don’t,” Miller said. “If the public doesn’t want this direction, then our design would revert back to the curb lines that are currently in place.”