BARRE — With renovation and restoration of the iconic Reynolds House nearing completion, its owners have renewed a year-old request to secure dedicated parking for patrons.
Technically, the request has been pending since Thomas Lauzon first made it shortly after ending his record-setting run as Barre’s mayor last year. Lauzon, who has since secured a 10-year tax stabilization agreement to help finance the project, told city councilors this week that while his parking need isn’t yet urgent, they will soon need to address it.
Lauzon has planned to use the small city-owned parking lot next to the historic Reynolds House at the intersection of South Main, Hill and Ayers streets. His offer to buy or lease the lot from the city remains on the table and has been the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations with City Manager Steve Mackenzie.
Councilors were recently provided with the product of those negotiations — a proposal to enter into a one-year lease agreement to resolve an immediate need, with the understanding either a long-term lease or the outright sale of the lot would be negotiated in the interim.
Lauzon said he has offered to lease 10 of the 12 spaces in the lot for $250 apiece, while leaving two available for public use. He would also absorb the responsibility for plowing and maintaining the lot under the proposed arrangement, he said.
Lauzon said he has offered to buy the lot for $50,000 — a sale that could negate a portion of the proposed one-year lease and provide the city a one-time source of revenue, as well as more than $1,500 a year in property taxes on a lot that is currently tax-exempt.
Acknowledging the potential for “seller’s remorse,” Lauzon said his proposal would give the city the opportunity to buy the lot back for $50,000 either five or 10 years from the date of sale.
Lauzon said his primary interest is ensuring convenient and predictable parking for patrons of the bed and breakfast, which is tentatively scheduled to open March 1 and will be run by Councilor Jeffrey Tuper-Giles and his husband, Eric. As he did a year ago, Tuper-Giles recused himself from Tuesday night’s discussion and joined Lauzon and his wife, Karen, in the audience due to his acknowledged conflict of interest.
Councilors Brandon Batham, Michael Boutin and Rich Morey all indicated their preference is to sell the city-owned parking lot. However, Batham argued any sale should be part of a competitive public process, like the one the council is using for the potential sale of the historic Wheelock House. Boutin said he didn’t believe that was necessary while Councilor Sue Higby stressed that it was, even though she wasn’t certain the city should entertain offers for the strategically located parking lot.
“Parking isn’t the highest and best use for that spot,” she said. “That corner is going to look very different in 10 to 15 years.”
Given the setback requirements contained in the city’s zoning regulations — both existing and proposed — Lauzon said the development potential for the small lot was insignificant. He did not address Higby’s suggestion that lot could be converted into a public park.
Batham addressed both, suggesting the property’s use was limited by its location at a tricky three-way intersection that includes a busy state route and the street that leads to Spaulding High School.
“I have a hard time envisioning that property being used for anything other than a parking lot or a public park space and I would be hesitant to zone that property as a public park space given the safety hazard that area would present,” he said.
Higby opened the meeting by expressing concern that the warned agenda item made no mention of the possible “lease” or “sale” of the city-owned lot. She suggested notifying nearby property owners who might use the lot that the number of spaces available would either be radically reduced or possibly eliminated.
Councilors made no decisions Tuesday night, but asked Lauzon to provide City Attorney Oliver Twombly with a proposed lease agreement that he could review before they meet next on Feb. 19.
Higby said she didn’t object to a short-term accommodation — provided it was properly warned — and Batham indicated it would buy time to launch what he believed should be a public process involving the parking lot’s sale.
“I would like to see us proceed with putting out the option for folks to bid on the sale of the property,” he said, predicting Lauzon would likely be the only bidder.
Lauzon said he would provide a “fair and balanced lease” to Twombly by the end of the week and councilors said they hoped to be in a position to approve it when they meet in two weeks. Mayor Lucas Herring said the process for possibly selling the lot would be discussed in more detail at that time.