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Residents Speak Out at Final Parking Deck Hearing

Engineers go over plans for proposed structures on two township parking lots.

About 30 residents took advantage of their last opportunity to voice their opinion on the two proposals for a downtown parking deck Thursday night.

This was the on phase one of a parking structure study done by Tim Haahs & Associates, an architecture and engineering firm that specializes in parking.

“We decided to do a two-phase approach,” explained Township Committee member Robert Tillotson, who is on the commuter parking subcommittee. “Phase one was a much more detailed study, which included an environmental assessment on both lots.” Tillotson and Committee member Jim Suell presided over the hearing.

The next step, Tillotson said, would be to decide whether the township committee wants to proceed with phase two, and decide on which of the two lots under consideration.

Jim Zullo, an engineer with Tim Haahs & Associates, gave an overview of the concept plans. Either option would create enough spaces to eliminate all 150 valet parking spaces and create an additional 64 to 70 spaces above what is currently available now, including valet.

One option is to create a deck on Municipal Parking Lot #2, which is located at the corner of Lackawanna Place and Essex Street. It would have a total of 362 spaces and cost $8.11 million ($22,410 per space), Zullo said.

The other option discussed is to build the deck on Municipal Lot #7, which is at the train station itself, behind the Millburn-Short Hills Volunteer Rescue Squad. The total construction cost for a deck on Lot #7 would be $8.44 million, but the lot would have 431 spaces at a cost of $19, 575 per parking space, according to Zullo.

“Right now, about 150 people a day are utilizing the valet parking service,” he said. “This study was to make sure sizing was sufficient to absorb that and allow for some level of growth. Nothing substantial.”

Zullo said his team also looked at which lot would support multiple uses.

“Obviously a parking structure is a significant infrastructure investment,” he said. “You want convenience, and connectivity to the train station, for both commuters and downtown users. It’s important to understand that this infrastructure should be developed to serve Millburn for 50 years plus. You need to think about not just what it’s satisfying today, but its utilization in the future.”

Lot #2 is in a largely commercial area. Lot #7 is in a residential area. Zullo said both lot plans attempt to minimize the mass of the parking structure so it was complimentary to the surrounding area.

Lot #2 currently has an overflow of commuter parking when lots 7 and 9 are full. It has 173 spaces, and the study estimates 150 cars in the valet parking on a busy day, so the site plan allows for 393 spaces, an excess of about 70 parking spaces. It’s also “user friendly,” Zullo said, and easy to pull in and out.

The average height at the top level is about 30 feet, and each suspended level is about 11 feet. The highest part of the structure is about 43 feet.

“One of the benefits is that it can serve commuters during the day, and the downtown district on evenings and weekends,” Zullo said. “The other thing about both of these is that typically we want to design for a potential vertical expansion. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but both sites could be designed to add another level.”

He added that often such site plans include a way to incorporate some retail, and although he said Lot #2 doesn’t have much space for that, there is a bit of room close to the corner of Essex and Lackawanna for a small amenity retail area, such as a coffee shop.

Zullo said both parking decks are open structures that don’t require ventilation or sprinklers. The elevators towers are designed with security in mind, with lots of glass, lighting and good views of the street.

Bill Deane, a vice president and traffic consultant with Dewberry, studied traffic patterns in Millburn and said that either way, the intersection at Lackawanna Place and Glen Avenue is going to be negatively impacted by a deck. However, he said, he would recommend a three-way stop at that intersection, possibly with light-up signs indicating it’s a pedestrian crossing, would solve the problem.

“The traffic is already here,” Deane said. “We did some traffic counts at Glen Avenue and Lackawanna, and at Lackawanna and Essex. We took some traffic counts at exit on Glen Avenue to get some sense of how people are dispersing when they leave facility. We also looked at pedestrian movements, and they are predominately on the north side of the railroad underpass. There is no crosswalk defined. It is a free for all situation that needs to be corrected.”

Those in attendance questioned Tillotson and Suell about whether had been considered, instead of parking decks. Suell said the committee did explore other options, including doing away with valet parking and having permit parking only; and using a jitney service, which he said has been attempted in the past but abandoned when no one used it.

Commuter parking fees, which would absorb the cost of construction, would go from approximately $360 per year to about $540. Several  of those in attendance said they are commuters and have no complaints with paying the extra money for a parking structure that functions better than what’s currently available.                 

MarkDS June 17, 2011 at 12:01 PM
I have never counted but for the best count you need to be there at about 10AM. Even mid day there are people who come back and as regular spots open the valet moves cars into them. I only go to Millburn when I am going in late. Usually I go to Short Hills. But if I take a train after 9 I go to Millburn because I know I will always be able to park and at Short Hills it is a crap shoot. Basically the valet lines both sides of the two main aisles and one side of the narrower third aisles with cars parked perpendicular to the spots. So each car crosses about 2 spots. Again, I have never done the math but it is a lot of extra cars parked because of the valet. Mid week in my experience all the potential valet spots in lot 7 are filled at 10AM. Sometimes not on Monday or Friday. Valet works.
MarkDS June 17, 2011 at 12:09 PM
Especially when the deck would result in HIGHER fees than what we have now. Currently no commuter with a permit who wants to park is turned away. You can argue that we should work to eliminate the need to sometimes overflow to lot 2 but that should be possible with minor tweeks. We also need to consider that the major New York based corporation for which my wife works is actively promoting working virtual and only coming in for meetings. They are eliminating permanent work spaces for these employees and setting up "hotel" space for when they are in. They expect to have a large percentage of their employees on this by 2015. This is a cost containment measure. I am sure they are not the only company planning this. We are on the cusp of this type of major change so we need to be very careful about any use projections based on thinking that does not take into account technological changes.
Charles June 17, 2011 at 05:43 PM
Is "a lot" near 150? I can see "a lot" being maybe 30 extra cars parked perpendicular to the spots. Not against valet parking, but if it is only 30 extra being parked it would be helpful, I think, to consider the other options I mentioned so that one can evaluate whether even the valet parking is really needed. And I the implicit assumption that a $200 parking permit increase is going to lead to about the same number of permit sales is counter-intuitive. Why not just increase the fees for a year and see what happens. Anyway, I think this is going to be approved. It surely takes consideration of any lot 7 deck off the table probably for at least a dozen years and that is a good thing for those nearby residents.
MarkDS June 17, 2011 at 05:53 PM
As I said I have never counted and am in the city during the day so can not count. I do not have any plans to go in late in the near future so I do not expect to be there (and summer usage is lighter anyway). But I will agree 150 sounds exaggerated. But so does 30. If I had to guess, and it is really a guess based upon the space available, I would say about 80-100 extra spaces are created by having the valet. As I go through Millburn on the train I will try to observe and do some quick calculations. But from a service perspective this is the value of the valet - before the valet if you were not going in early you ran a real risk of having no commuter spot available in either Millburn or Short Hills even though you had paid for a permit (it happened to me on a number of occasions). After the valet that is never an issue. That is a huge improvement and shows that the valet works and is a viable permanent system.
Charles June 17, 2011 at 07:44 PM
For any deck, I suppose we could again find issues of appropriate allotment of spaces between the business parking reserved, the 24-hour reserved, the commuter pseudo-reserved, and any residual shopper parking. So maybe we would again have a need for a valet to address the need you state. If we don't address the fundamentals of these permits, then I suspect that this may well happen sooner rather than later. Think of it - a $8 million deck and still a need for valet!

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