Parking loss a concern in Bellows Falls

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BELLOWS FALLS — The potential elimination of two parking spaces in the downtown area because of safety concerns is not winning a lot of friends in Bellows Falls.

Everett Hammond, Rockingham public works director, was seeking approval Tuesday night of a downtown pavement marking plan from the Rockingham Select Board, but the plan came in for some sharp criticism.

Bellows Falls Village President Deborah Wright told the board that parking was at a premium in the historic downtown, and she urged the boards not to adopt the plan that called for eliminating a parking space in front of J&H Hardware and another in front of Popolo Restaurant.

Wright was joined by two select board members, who also said Bellows Falls could not afford to lose any additional spaces.

Hammond said after the meeting that the plan had received preliminary approval two years ago, but that the construction in the downtown area this summer would be making it a reality.

The town is currently rebuilding the sidewalks in the downtown, along with rebuilding the "bump-outs," and repaving the entire Square, as well as Westminster Street.

Wright said the select board was having a conversation about downtown parking without talking to the trustees. He said the village had lost about seven parking spaces in the past couple of years because of the creation of a loading zone. The two most recent spaces back out into crosswalks, creating safety concerns.

Select Board Chairwoman Susan Hammond said the town had to be compliant with federal regulations, including requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Unless we can get a waiver because of the history of the town....." she said.

Selectman Gaetano Putignano said there was not enough parking in the downtown area, and he said the space devoted to bike racks was not necessary, since bike traffic in the area wasn't strong. "And it's winter most of the year," he said.

But others disagreed, saying there were more bicylists coming to the village.

Hammond said the plan had been submitted to the state Agency of Transportation for approval as well, but he received approval to go ahead and solicit bids for the marking contract.

There will be three crosswalks on Westminster Street, and a new large marked area at the intersection of The Square with Bridge Street. Hammond called it a "crossing zone."

Hammond also asked for and received approval from the board to extend the Bazin Brothers Construction Co. contract for the new sidewalks by a week, to Aug. 22, because of recent rains.

"We're very lucky, they're doing an excellent job," he said. Bazin Brothers stepped in to do the project after the original contractor backed out of the project.

Contacted after the meeting, Wright said she was concerned about the parking situation. While there are parking lots within walking distance of the downtown area, Bellows Falls has an elderly population, and people aren't inclined to walk that far.

"We have a minimal amount of space. We're an old community and we can't make Bellows Falls bigger," said Wright, who while she owns a downtown business, she isn't a merchant. "There needs to be another way," she said.

Complaints about merchants parking all day in downtown spaces is another issue, she said. Getting members of the Bellows Falls Police Department or even volunteers to enforce the two-hour parking limit is a concern.

"Two hours is still two hours is still two hours," she said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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