At its February 5 meeting, the Saugerties village board unanimously opposed a feasibility study of a parking garage in Saugerties’ main business district. While the board and some members of the Saugerties Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) agree with the decision, others have been left unsatisfied and frustrated. News coverage from other sources has only stirred the pot further.
“I don’t think we need a parking garage,” said special projects and zoning director Alex Wade to a Daily Freeman reporter after the meeting. “People are just lazy … and I don’t think they want to walk.”
The study by engineering firm Carl Walker, Inc. would have cost $18,000. The garage itself would cost “millions” according to Wade.
“There’s no reasonable place to put it,” explained Wade. “I already had two engineers see if the project is feasible [and they said it wasn’t]. The mayor and myself think the whole thing is overblown. There really is no space in the village for more houses. Businesses may grow, but I think we’re at the limit of what the infrastructure can stand.”
A 2007 study called the Saugerties Area Mobility Analysis was conducted by BFJ Planning and Creighton Manning Engineering. “There is no shortage of parking spaces in the Village of Saugerties,” said that report. “At the peak level of demand there were still 235 available spaces (45% of parking supply). On the other hand, metered parking in the village core is operating at capacity …. The effect of on-street metered spaces operating at capacity gives the appearance that there is no parking available in the village core. As people drive through the village core, they may notice all visible spaces full, but not realize that parking is available a short walk away.” Efforts should be made to encourage turnover of the spaces in the most desirable locations, the 2007 study concluded. “The best way to encourage turnover is through enforcement and pricing.”
In April 2010, the village doubled meter prices from 25 cents an hour to 50 cents under the leadership of mayor Bob Yerick.
STAC member Al Bruno feels that this assessment is now outdated, considering the increasing popularity of local tourist attractions like HITS, Diamond Mills and Bella Luna. In a letter, he called Wade’s quote “demeaning and insulting” to visitors and locals alike.
“I do apologize what was said by a member of my staff. It wasn’t meant to insult the people of Saugerties by any means,” said mayor Bill Murphy. “There was no derogatory insult meant to the Saugerties people, just people in general. I myself can be lazy sometimes, too. My thing is that sometimes people think if they can’t park right in front of the place they want to go to that there’s no parking. I’m guilty of that, too, but as the mayor I’m happy that the village is busy.”
The mayor supported the board’s decision, citing, among other locations, the 88 parking spots behind Mirabella’s, the 44 spots behind the village hall, the 15 spaces in the Reis lot and the 82 only metered until 5 p.m. He also cited the M&T lot and the HITS lot as a parking option, even though they are clearly designated as private parking lots. There is parking, he said, it just “isn’t centralized,” and is part of the village’s “antiquated charm.” According to police chief Joe Sinagra, Saugerties is one of the only communities in Ulster County that suspends meters for holidays and between Black Friday and January 1.
“[The mayor] sits in a tough spot because he doesn’t want to bankrupt the village by doing a study for a parking garage and then put it up,” said Sinagra. “He has a tough balancing act. One of the things I did comment on before was putting up better signs to indicate where parking is.”
In an interview, Bruno cited the fact that the existing spots are taken up by residents and business owners, not consumers buying from local businesses. His parking crusade began two years ago, he said, during a parking subcommittee meeting between himself, Alex Wade and Sinagra. Zhe has sinbce spoken to a slew of locals about their opinions. According to Bruno, the only people who didn’t think that improvements needed to be made were village employees. Bruno was the STAC member who initially contacted the engineering firm.
Bruno also brought up a lack of handicapped parking, saying that “a 75-year-old man or woman [shouldn’t have to] park at the Cow Flop [across the street from the high school] to get to Partition Street.
Wade disagreed. “I’m handicapped, and I never struggle to find a spot,” said Wade. “I think people just don’t want to drive around the block.”
Town supervisor Fred Costello feels other issues outlined by the 2007 SAMA study need to be addressed. “We are focused on the Thruway right now, especially the south bound side where there has been a high frequency of accidents [which was] … identified by SAMA,” said Costello. “[It identified] a number of traffic issues throughout the town. I wish we had the resources to address all the areas. More data is always helpful, so the sooner the better.”
This past weekend the entire municipal lot behind Mirabella’s was full, either from visitors or residents, store owners, employees,” said councilmember John Schoonmaker “It was not an issue for me as I’m aware of side streets that can be parked on and that the lot by Cahill is typically empty this time of year. But for someone out of town, they will not have this information.
“We are quickly becoming a tourist destination, and I forsee parking will only get worse as time goes on. I’ve also heard from some business owners personally that parking is indeed an issue and needs to be addressed.”
Schoonmaker suggested designating more accessible parking as “visitor” parking and retaining lots further away for employees and businessowners. While this option has been considered, Wade said it was unlikely.
Leanne Thornton, town board liaison to STAC, could not be reached for comment. Neither could Matt Gleason, owner of the Brine Barrel Deli on Partition Street and chair of STAC.
Bruno is determined to find a solution to the parking problem, whether it be a parking garage or just a reconfiguration of current parking spaces. “It’s not about who I piss off, it’s about whether the village of Saugerties will move forward,” said Bruno. “My motivation isn’t about stroking anyone’s ego, it’s about what’s best for the town. If people don’t have a place to park, they won’t spend money at local businesses.”
Should the county pay for the study rather than local taxpayers, Wade would be willing to do the extensive paperwork to administer it. “If we get more pressure, there are opportunities to expand parking,” Wade said.