The Board of Selectmen this week approved a reduced-capacity opening of the Hull Redevelopment Authority’s parking areas for the coming season.
Last year the board gave the go-ahead for the HRA to operate its 1,000-space lots at 50 percent capacity, or 500 spaces, due to COVID-19 concerns.
On a 3-2 vote that came after lengthy discussions yesterday and at an earlier meeting, the selectmen upped that amount to 600 in an effort to balance neighborhood concerns about traffic congestion during peak beach times with the desire to continue to be a welcoming community for visitors, who also support local businesses.
The plan includes 75 spaces at the Water Street triangle lot; 425 parking spots in the parking area on the hotel side of the property; and 100 spaces in the Phipps Street lot, with fencing or shrubs to delineate the area and as a buffer for neighbors.
Selectman Domenico Sestito and Selectwoman Donna Pursel voted “no” on the motion, but for different reasons. Sestito preferred far fewer spaces, focusing on the quality-of-life issue for residents who are impacted by heavy traffic and related issues all summer long. Pursel, on the other hand, said last year’s reduced parking in the HRA lot “shifted the burden from one neighborhood to another,” littering the area where she lives with cars. “I think the HRA parking lot should be opened back up to what it was pre-COVID.”
The board also agreed to allow additional parking for residents with municipal parking stickers at either the Phipps Street or triangle lot.
The board’s vote also included two conditions at the suggestion of Selectman John Reilly – that the HRA hire a detail during weekends and other peak times to help manage the traffic and that signage pointing the way to local businesses be installed and/or that flyers listing local shops and restaurants that welcome business from beachgoers be handed out at the three parking areas.
Before the vote, HRA Chairman Bartley Kelly advocated for allowing the lots to be open at 100 capacity. “This is our main revenue source,” he said. A portion of the parking lot proceeds goes to the town.
“Closing off the lot entirely [as suggested by some at an earlier meeting] would create a bigger problem, with people who found the lot closed circling around to find other spaces,” including in nearby neighborhoods, Kelly continued.
He also contended that closing the lot would send the wrong message to people from out of town who come to Hull to enjoy the beach and then spend money at local shops and restaurants. “Summertime is when these businesses make their bread and butter,” Kelly said. “In the wintertime they try to survive.”
Board Chairwoman Jennifer Constable read a lengthy letter from Hull Nantasket Chamber of Commerce President Adrian Muir, stating that the consensus among numerous business owners and chamber members he spoke with is that closing the HRA lot “would have a detrimental effect on the residents living near the HRA lot and would also have negative consequences on the businesses in that area and throughout town as well.”
Muir’s letter, which appeared in its entirety in the March 18 Hull Times, explains the rationale behind that statement.
Constable said the most frequent message she has heard from local businesses and residents “is that we don’t want outsiders. That’s a horrendous message to send.”
HRA member Dennis Zaia cited the importance of “figuring out a way to allow people to come to our town and be respectful of it but also to be able to participate within the community in ways that make sense. We want to do everything possible to make this an inviting place to visit.”
Town Manager Philip Lemnios suggested it might be wise, in light of the HRA’s plans to develop the property (after completing the Urban Renewal Plan it is currently working on), to reduce the available amount of parking spaces next year and again the following year to help those using the lot get used to fewer spaces “rather than implementing a strict on-off switch.” The renewal plan would mean there would no longer be 1,000 parking spaces available for beachgoers.
Selectman Greg Grey also shared his opinion. “I think that 1,000 parking spaces is way too many” to allow the HRA to use. “I live near the lot, and my thought process is that 90 percent of the people who park there go to the beach and then leave” without patronizing local businesses.
In other business at the meeting, Reilly said he has learned that some residents in certain parts of town have been experiencing “a big increase in their electric bills” and asked Lemnios if he could shed light on the issue.
Lemnios indicated he was not aware of any reasons for the spike and suggested that residents with questions or concerns contact the light department directly.
He noted that the installation of “smart” meters to replace the current ones will help light plant employees identify more quickly any power outages and locations. However, he added, there is no reason to connect the increased bills to the new meters.