Attorney Donald Dubendorf, left, addresses the Zoning Board of Appeals about the Clark Art's no longer temporary parking.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night approved the Clark Art Institute's plan to make permanent its employee parking lot on North Street.
The South Street museum in 2010 was granted permission to use the lot at 101 North St. as temporary, seasonal parking during the large-scale renovation currently under way at the Clark.
The temporary usage of the auxiliary parking lot was set to expire in October of this year, but the Clark came to the Zoning Board Thursday to ask permission to keep using the off-campus lot because during construction it found it needed to lose some of the sites it originally planned to create on campus.
"I'll be blunt: The primary reason it was temporary was we didn't think we'd need it after the construction period," said attorney Donald Dubendorf, who appeared before the ZBA on behalf of the Clark.
But during the renovation and the creation of a new visitors parking area on the north side of the campus, the Clark found that it needed to scale down the size of the parking lot it was permitted to build.
At the same time, the institution needed to meet a Planning Board requirement that it maintain 465 parking spaces.
With the 406 spaces still planned for the South Street campus and the 89 spots on North Street, the Clark now will exceed the Planning Board's minimum during peak periods, Dubendorf noted.
ZBA member Lawrence Wright went into Thursday's hearing objecting to the Clark's request to make the North Street lot permanent on the grounds it was not in the spirit of the Planning Board requirements.
"I think this is a bad idea," Wright said. "If the Planning Board says you need 465 spaces, they should be on site or at least adjacent and easily walkable from the site. This might an issue to go back to the Planning Board."
Dubendorf disagreed that it was a question for the planners at this point.
"Its statutory role is how many spaces," he said. "There's no question that when we went to them what we showed them was on-site. ... Where we put them is your decision.
"This is the board that determines where we put all of our parking."
And Dubendorf and other representatives from the museum explained to the board that the North Street lot has been and will continue to be used only for Clark staff and contractors. Visitors to the museum will continue to park on the campus.
Those employees use the North Street lot only during peak season for the museum, and they are shuttled to and from the museum each day by the Clark — an arrangement that works for the museum, its staff and neighbors of the North Street lot, Dubendorf said.
At one point, Wright questioned whether the museum should be allowed to relocate parking off-site to improve the appearance of its campus, but Dubendorf strongly maintained that any visual enhancement to the campus is a side benefit.
"It's not aesthetic, Larry, it's real," Dubendorf said.
Dubendorf explained that soils around the large visitors lot were not adequate, and there were issues about screening the lot that came up during the construction phase.
The North Street lot is adequate to accommodate most of the Clark's employees even when fully staffed. The museum has about 70 full-time and 30 seasonal employees.
Wright ultimately joined in a unanimous decision making the North Street lot a permanent, seasonal lot, available to the museum from April 1 to Oct. 30 with the same design elements currently in place.
While the decision solved a problem for the Clark, it also removes a potential solution for the town's Public Safety Building Study Committee, which had mentioned the North Street site as a possible home for a new police station on the assumption the Clark would not have a use for it after the construction project wraps up in June.
A number of other elements of that construction project have changed since the last time the Clark came before the ZBA, and on Thursday the museum sought approval for modifications to its site plan.
Most of those changes had minimal impact and were discussed previously with the town's Conservation Commission, which was granted jurisdiction over the entire project because of resource areas on parts of the campus.
The most noticeable alterations for visitors: a 30-percent reduction in the size of the reflecting pool that will adjoin the new visitors center and the preservation of the southern driveway off of South Street.
Originally, the Clark planned to bring all traffic onto its campus via the driveway on the north end of the campus, but Dubendorf said the museum wants to continue with two driveways, at least until it sees how traffic flow works out in the first few years of the new campus.