A proposed plan to convert 36 parking spaces that the town obtained in a land swap from the MBTA was met with a variety of opinions during a public forum Tuesday night.
The location of the conversion, as outlined by town officials, would be at Chapel Street and Eaton Square, also the location of the commuter rail stop.
In the proposal 16 of the 36 spaces would be designated as permit parking for employees of downtown businesses, 18 would be allotted as two hour municipal parking, and two would remain handicap designated.
In a memorandum from Needham's Director of Economic Development, Devra G. Bailin, to town manager, Kate Fitzpatrick, Bailin argued that by providing permit spaces, employees of local businesses would be discouraged from taking up high turnover spaces all day.
It was also argued that commuter parking should primarily be based in outlying lots, such as the , , and versus in the middle of a business district that has limited parking available to begin with.
However, the memorandum seemed to have little sway over residents who use the lot, perhaps in due part to it referencing parking studies focusing on downtowns much larger in scope and population than Needham, such as the cities of Seattle and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"I do appreciate why you’re doing this," said resident Scott Brightman who spoke before the board in opposition to the plan. "All I'm asking for is a reasonable approach and look at timing."
“I can tell you that everyday I take the 7:32 and by 7:31 they're almost gone," said resident, Larry Cohen, regarding parking for commuters at Chapel Street and Eaton Square.
Other residents, such as Louise Condon, see the benefits to retailers, but said, "This has become a surprise to people who are regular commuters. My thought was maybe do it gradually."
Condon then went on to propose having only half of the 36 spots converted to permit and municipal parking this year.
Concerns, though, did not simply revolve around the issue of commuter parking. Residents were also worried the MBTA would interpret a lack of commuter spots as a lack of riders at the Needham Center station.
"I think at the center of our negotiations with the MBTA is the preservation of the stop," Fitzpatrick told residents.
Like members of the general public, the selectmen, also had a variety of thoughts on the proposal.
"I think it's kind of ironic. Here we have two conflicting environmental issues going on; we want people to use the train, and we want to encourage them to walk downtown," noted Selectman Jerry Wasserman.
Selectman Dan Matthews viewed the issue in terms of the vitality of the business district being critical to the town, and in support of the proposal said, "I am positive there is efficient space at Heights and Bird's Hill to accommodate."
Selectman Denise Garlick added. "I am very intrigued by the positive economic impact of freeing up the downtown."
If the plan does go through, downtown will go from having 106 permit parking spaces to 122, 87 two-hour parking spaces to 105, and it will maintain eight handicap spaces. All commuter train parking will then be diverted to the Heights, Junction, and Hersey, leaving the Needham Center station as a walking, biking, and drop stop.