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.