( This article first appeared in the May 31, 2013 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
Solving Village’s Parking Puzzle
By Tony Marquis, Standard Staff
This week, a series of signs for free parking directed unsuspecting tourists down Pleasant Street to an empty lot, blocked off by caution tape and a makeshift sign with a message titled “CLOSED.”
“Hello, The ‘Free Parking’ area will be closing permanently tonight, Wednesday, May 22. This private property will be undergoing some construction, on the residence.
We hope you have enjoyed use of the property and appreciate your cooperation.”
The letter is unsigned.
It’s not just tourists who have been seen U-turning out of the former Frost Mills parking lot. Downtown workers hoping to grab a spot in the last free, unrestricted parking lot in the village were also denied.
Last week, the Woodstock Resort Corporation sold the Frost Mills lot to the Frost Mills Nominee Trust, for $1.95 million. The beneficiary of the nominee trust and their plans for the site are unknown.
The sale has downtown merchants and town officials hard at work trying to come up with a way to recoup the loss of roughly 45 free parking spots — so they can keep tourists in town and local workers off the meters.
“Something drastically needs to happen for the parking in our community,” said Brenda Blakeman, owner of First Impressions Salon and Spa. “That’s part of the reason people don’t shop in Woodstock is because the parking is so limited. To take away the one overflow spot, it seems like it’s going to harm the community.”
There are about 171 free parking spots in the village’s commercial district. Some are clearly marked, like those on the right side of the westbound lane of Route 4 surrounding the Green. Some are less than obvious, like the dirt and pavement spots on Pleasant Street.
Fortunately for those looking for summer parking in Woodstock, there are few rules beyond: If a sign says no parking, don’t park there.
According to the village parking ordinance, you can’t park more than 48 consecutive hours in one location or in a public parking lot between 12:01 a.m. and 6 a.m. — unless allowed by special regulation.
The village paid about $5,000 to rent the Frost Mills lot from Woodstock Resort Corp. for the last few years while the lot was for sale. Attempts to contact Woodstock Resort Corp. President Werner Graef at his office Tuesday were not successful.
“I think for our community there’s not enough places to park to begin with. That is the case especially in the summer for tourists,” Blakeman said.
Downtown parking has been a contentious issue, even before meters were installed.
In April, Trustees announced that 100 people with outstanding parking fines could be towed if they didn’t pay at least half their fines by June 9. A majority of the repeat parking offenders did regular business or worked in the village.
Some businesses say the meters have been a deterrent to business. Others say they encourage turnover. With the closing of Frost Mills, some businesses worry tourists won’t even bother stopping in town if they can’t find reasonably close parking.
“People who park at a meter, they’re always in a rush. They don’t have time to look at something. It can kill a sale sometimes,” said Patricia Eames, owner of the The Clover Gift Shop. “It’s going to just make it that much harder to find parking. It adds to a frustration that’s already here.”
At the last Village Business Alliance, Nick Ferro, president of the VBA, talked with Village Manager Phil Swanson about two possible solutions: turning the Woodstock Historical Society parking lot into a combination of long-term rentals and metered parking and/or leveling buildings and expand parking in the snow dump.
The village is already planning to level two buildings this summer at the snow dump (formerly the “jungle” and now officially a park) — which could open up land for parking. Ferro also mentioned a work-time shuttle from the snow dump to downtown to accommodate village employees.
“I know people have talked about down by the jungle,” said Unicorn owner Jeffrey Kahn. “That’s not really a practical solution for tourists or even for employees. In my opinion, people will walk the shortest distance possible.”
Kahn said the loss of Frost Mills could be felt during high-tourist times like foliage season.
“Employees use that lot and if they can’t park there, they may take up spaces that are intended for shoppers and that’s a problem — that would exacerbate the problem,” Kahn said.
Katy Savage contributed to this report.
To subscribe to an electronic edition of the Vermont Standard and get your local news every Wednesday night at 8 p.m. click here. – Only $25/year