Written by Dolores Kazanjian O’Brien Thursday, 28 May 2009 11:02
At a recent public hearing, the overwhelming majority of residents who testified expressed opposition to the Town of North Hempstead (TONH) proposal to build a two-and-a-half story, tiered parking garage at the Port Washington railroad station. The proposed design would offer a net gain of 212 parking spaces. Listening to the testimony were Supervisor Jon Kaiman, Council members Fred Pollack, Maria-Christina Poons, and Thomas Dwyer, as well as Town Clerk Leslie Gross.
No one denied that parking at the station is a problem. A number of residents, however, feared that the garage would encourage more vehicular traffic, thus adding to the congestion on Main Street. One local resident said, “Traffic is already a nightmare. You can easily wait three or four changes of light. I invite anyone, including the board members, to come and sit on my porch and watch the traffic.” Another said, “I walk to the station every day. The last thing in the world this town needs is more cars.”
Port Washington Police Chief William J. Kilfoil expressed the police district’s concerns about additional congestion. He said, in part, “The traffic on Main Street can be very heavily congested at times, especially during the evening rush hour. Adding a tiered parking structure with over 200 additional parking spaces can serve to add to this congestion. In fact, on Page 60 of the engineer’s traffic study under alternative #2, it states that traffic on South Bayles Avenue at Main Street may be backed up more than eight minutes at certain peak periods. We are concerned that if congestion increases, more traffic accidents can occur….If traffic congestion increases rather than decreases, the police response to critical calls could be affected.” A representative of the Port Washington Fire Department expressed similar concerns, saying “I believe that traffic is out of control. We are all volunteers who have to make our way to the firehouse.” He cautioned that any additional congestion was certain to affect response times.
In response, Kaiman pointed out that the traffic study commissioned by the town predicted that the garage would not increase traffic congestion and, in fact, might reduce it. He said, “We are committed to reducing the impact.” He added, “I think it will benefit those who live in the area and outside.” He also pointed out that parking in the garage would be restricted to residents of the Port Washington parking district. He said that the traffic study is available in the Port Washington library at the reference desk. Site plans and concept drawings are also on display at the library.
Some residents expressed fear that an enclosed parking garage would result in increased crime. One female resident who works the night shift said, “I feel safe [in the current lot] because I see the police. I am worried about having a building with people hanging out.” Kaiman responded, “I believe that there will be a minimal impact on safety. I hope and believe that the Port Washington police will monitor the facility.” Kilfoil testified, “We are concerned about the capacity for an increase in crimes against property and crimes against people in the area. Those who engage in criminal behavior tend to feel more comfortable in an enclosed structure such as this. The town has stated that they are considering placing security personnel, video surveillance cameras and proper lighting in the structure and have asked the police district to make this area part of our daily patrol. While we will do our best as your police department to patrol the area, we cannot be there all the time. I cannot guarantee that we can create the omni-presence necessary to deter those that would break the law.” Kilfoil added, “In conclusion, the police district has traffic concerns and criminal activity concerns and will not endorse or support this project.”
Others who spoke asked about the source of funds for the construction, which is estimated to be approximately $13 million. Kaiman and Pollack responded that there will be an increase in parking district taxes (not general town taxes) and in parking fees. They stated that they anticipate that the increases will be modest. Kaiman said, “We hope to minimize the tax increase.” He added that this is a good time to finance the construction, because of the current low interest rates.
Acknowledging the need for more parking, a number of residents suggested alternatives, specifically: jitneys, trolleys, satellite parking, or building the garage in another location. One resident proposed more bike racks. Some suggested that this is a short-term solution and urged more study of alternatives and impact before proceeding.
Two organizations expressed their support for the project: The Port Washington Chamber of Commerce and Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington. Dan Donatelli, co-president of the latter organization, said that their support was “qualified.” He pointed out that during the visioning process a need for more parking was expressed. Donatelli said, “If this is done properly it can release spots in other parts of Port Washington. There is a possibility for us to do a restructuring of parking here.” He added, “We also believe that there are features that can be added to make the structure more attractive.” (Esthetics was another concern of the public. One resident said, “Parking garages are essentially ugly. That is why they are not on Fifth Avenue.”) Donatelli added a concern, as did other residents and one taxi business owner, about pickup and drop off. He said, “We do not want to hurt the taxis.” The representative from the chamber of commerce expressed the opinion that additional parking and more traffic will bring more traffic into the stores. He said, “We have to do something that keeps our businesses being successful.”
A few citizens expressed support for the garage. One young professional said, “The current situation is that the spots are completely full. I don’t have time to walk or bike or wait for a jitney.”
According to a handout provided by the town, during the construction period the plan is to establish a shuttle service from other town-owned parking lots, such as North Hempstead Beach Park.
It is expected that the parking garage will be an agenda item at the June 23 TONH Board meeting.