In the 40 years I’ve lived in Montpelier, I’ve enjoyed the luxury of being able to walk most places I needed to go. Nearly all of the times I drove downtown, I rarely had trouble parking. Recently, due to a knee replacement, I’ve had to rely on driving more. In fact, we are all just temporarily able-bodied and will, at some point, probably experience limited mobility that precludes walking very far. This caused me to realize how many people who live in the city actually live outside what is a reasonable and comfortable walking distance — perhaps a mile or two — especially given much of the city is uphill from the downtown. That means even in our “pedestrian friendly” city, lots of people will end up driving into town. Having folks be able to get into town is critical for the health of our businesses. While driving and parking a car is clearly crazy, public transit is woefully inadequate and the much touted micro-transit is still invisible.
Do we really need a parking structure? In my experience, parking is difficult mainly during the legislative session. But I strongly support building it for three reasons. First, it will enable an important new business, the hotel, to be established and grow to meet the city’s needs. Second, it will allow us to have the option of moving some existing street parking to the parking structure. We’ve already seen this happen with added green space in the Confluence Park. If we can free up even small amounts of parking in key locations around the city, we will see a dramatic, positive change in the friendliness of downtown. Some argue we need to have fewer cars downtown and I agree. But the reality is we have cars and will have them in the near future. Even with the hope of more electric vehicles, this parking garage could provide a reasonable place to park and charge them. Additionally, when I think of all the changes that piece of land has been through over the past 250 years, this structure seems relatively inconsequential.
In the past 20 years, I’ve sat through countless hours of public meetings about parking, including many relating to the proposed structure. I believe all of the city staff and local business people acted in good faith throughout the process. Never once did I experience a hint of the city trying to ram something through or speed the process up to the exclusion of what was legal. Clearly, some disagree with my experience but it seems their disagreement is now more clearly defined as simply wanting to stop the project at all costs, arguing every small point of law and doing whatever is possible to tie the project up in court until it dies. What a shame things have come to this point.
I acknowledge the city staff for their calm response and the Basharas for their patience and resolve. I hope the courts will decide in favor of the project and allow for the structure and the hotel to both be built and add to the vitality of a great downtown.
John Snell lives in Montpelier.