On November 6, 2018, residents voted in favor of a parking garage to be built in the small town of Montpelier. The garage will be leased for public parking, with a total of 348 parking spots. Although the majority of people support the construction of the garage, many people disapprove with the plan and don’t agree it is worth the risk.
Throughout the Summer of 2018, multiple local businesses were forced to close their doors. Onion River and The Shoe Horn struggled to meet payroll. “It is clear now that we do not have the funds and can no longer access the vendor extended credit necessary to get winter inventory in the stores,” Brewer, the owner of the two street businesses, said. The closings of these stores were what Montpelier needed in order to raise awareness throughout to “Shop Locally!”, as many residents pledge. An anonymous resident strongly urged people to take the pledge, which consists of multiple promises to help rescue the town. The pledge is as follows: “I PLEDGE to make every effort to SHOP LOCALLY… I love Montpelier and I don’t want to see the downtown die.”
Rapid Loss of Businesses
Montpelier prides itself in local businesses, but it’s hard for small businesses to stay open. The population of the city is small, consisting of about 7,500 residents. This is not enough to support all of the small business, restaurants, and shops residing in downtown Montpelier. They depend on people outside of the community coming in. “I depend on my livelihood [from] my day job, [from] people walking to the store and buying things,” said Glen Hutcheson, a resident and worker at The Drawing Board.
The Hotel and Montpelier Need the Garage
Why is a parking garage being built in Montpelier? The Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel depends on it for existence. Montpelier struggles to support its existing downtown businesses, and would not be able to support any other shops they are hoping to open in the future. A large portion of hotel guests are business travelers who are part of a company, and most companies usually have agreements with chain hotels. When these travelers don’t see that chain hotel at their destination, they go to the closest place with one. Many residents see Montpelier being without a chain hotel as a blessing. However, this means that people who are coming to the area go to places such as Berlin rather than Montpelier. Glen Hutcheson, a resident and council member on board with the parking garage, said that “we lost five restaurants this summer. I hope and expect that the hotel and parking garage will help significantly with that problem,” he said. “More people in town means more people going to the restaurants and shops.” The garage will bring in many people to downtown that would not otherwise come.
Net Zero Vermont?
In 2016, Montpelier shook the nation by declaring carbon neutrality by 2030, calling it Net Zero Vermont. This means that their goal is to become the first state to produce or offset all of its energy needs from renewable energy sources by 2030. Vermont would need to make equal to or more than the amount of energy that it uses. According to Debra Sachs, the Executive Director of Net Zero Vermont (a non-profit organization), “Siting a parking garage on the confluence of the North Branch and the Winooski River is not appropriate for a City who has made a commitment to be net zero energy by 2030,” she said. “This parking garage is inviting more cars downtown,” which conflicts with the previously made goal.
“Really, at a time like this?”
In October 2018, a Californian company dropped off 100 bird scooters in downtown Montpelier for a trial run of sixty days. The first week was a bit rocky while everyone learned how they worked. “As time went on, people seemed to learn how to use them and obey traffic rules, and I think it got a little bit easier to have Birds in the city. So, we’ll see what the City Council thinks about that,” said Susan Allen, Montpelier’s Assistant City Manager. Just as Montpelier declared trying to become Net Zero, they gave residents different options for transportation, such as the scooters. Building a parking garage in Montpelier when other places are banning cars for their downtown such as Oslo, Norway, does not seem appropriate. According to studies, 75% percent of carbon monoxide emissions come from the usage of cars.
Other Options of Transportation
After announcing the cost of the parking garage, many residents are conflicted whether this is what the 10 million dollars should be spent on. Debra Sachs says, “I’d prefer these dollars to go to supporting mobility options (buses, micro-transit, bikes and walking) as opposed to cars.” Many people think that there isn’t just one solution to the parking problem and that multiple actions should be put into place. An easy solution with minimal costs could simply be installing more bike racks and raising awareness to use public transit or carpool. Debra later urges people to investigate and learn more about the garage for they will find that it was rushed and too many details are unknown.
Montpelier’s Parking Debate
Whether Montpelier has enough parking spots is highly debated. On March 12, 2013, there was an hour-long hearing debating the subject, with a majority of the participants being state employees. There were accounts mentioned of state workers searching like vultures to find an empty spot in the morning. The city also bans street parking at night to give the road crew space to clear the streets of snow, increasing the parking shortage. “You face [a] daily hassle and stress trying to get to work on time. It also puts limits on the vitality of our city. It’s hard to shop here and go out to eat,” said John Hollar, the mayor of Montpelier. While people fight for parking spots, others think that the city of Montpelier has not adequately examined its existing park. Believing that many communities have more parking then they know that they have. “It is not well known or organized on where people should park when they are coming into a community like Montpelier,” said Sachs, who thinks that Vermont should consider less expensive options rather than building the 10 million dollar garage.
“That’s the way it works. That’s the way all things work”
The parking garage will be paid for by the new tax increment that the Hampton Inn & Suites Hotel will generate. The hotel and other users of the garage will also pay parking fees. However, if the hotel fails or other contingencies arise, the taxpayers of Montpelier will be obligated to pay. “I think that is unlikely and I think that it would be manageable. But that’s the way it works,” said Glen Hutcheson.
The location of the parking garage will be on the current Capital Plaza parking lot, right on the Winooski River that runs through Montpelier. The garage will be connecting the walking and biking trail, however, it will also be taking space on the riverside that otherwise could have been used for something multi-purpose such as houses, as Sachs suggested. Critics have said that the town of Montpelier should have been more creative when putting things along the river. “This is prime waterfront,” said Sachs, executive director of Net Zero Vermont. “You don’t want to give cars a beautiful view of the river — give people a beautiful view of the river.”
Bike image by: spammy_tl
Bird scooter by Sasha Goldstein
Onion River Sports in Montpelier. Photo by Anne Galloway/VTDigger
Images from montpelier-vt.org/1062/Parking-Garage-Details