Council Vice President John Krol filed a petition calling for a new plan for the lot.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The owner of Berkshire Nautilus is glad to see the eyesore of a Columbus Avenue parking garage come down.
But, he feels deceived by the city because now parking meters are eyed for the new surface lot.
"I was literally stunned to learn for the very first time that not only would there be no additional free three-hour public spaces created with this," owner Jim Ramondetta told the City Council on Tuesday.
Ramondetta said he reached out to the mayor and his city councilor multiple times to learn more about the project directly across the street from his building and didn't hear anything back.
He said when the city did release information on the project, "the M word was never mentioned" until April 3 in a meeting with the Department of Community Development.
He feels the removal of public three-hour parking spaces will put him at a competitive disadvantage to other fitness centers that don't have meter parking. Ramondetta said because his clientele comes every day, some times twice a day, the meters become a "surtax" on the membership.
"I literally felt I had been deceived," he said. "It seems I was intentionally left in the dark."
Jennifer Ward is a member there but also has children participating in sports programs in the city's downtown. She said she used that lot frequently. She said paying for parking every time she has to go "really adds up" and is on top of the amount she is paying for the local sports programs and membership. She urged the city to leave free three-hour parking available.
Berkshire Nautilus manager Glen McBurney questioned the decision to put meters in the new surface lost, asking about for a cost-benefit analysis, the life expectancy of the meters, and how many of the current spots are being used by downtown employees. He wants to know how business has been since the meters were installed there.
"We have a history of sorts in that the First Street lot was paved recently and meters were installed," McBurney said.
The First Street lot had been redone after the City Council approved the metered parking plan. However, the idea was that Columbus Avenue was going to be a new garage and not a surface lot.
In the original maps released by the administration, the plans show that the First Street lot was always going to be metered and the meters installed after the renovation. But, the Columbus Avenue garage was not designated to be metered.
Ramondetta is frustrated. He said he was one of the first to take a risk in moving his business downtown -- a history dating back to the great debate over the construction of a new baseball stadium -- and he did so because there was available parking for his membership.
Council Vice President John Krol has now filed a petition asking the administration to find a "middle ground" with Ramondetta. Krol cited that the YMCA has a similar benefit in that the Melville Street lot has free public three-hour parking.
"I think it is worth a second look. It is worth the conversation," Krol said.
The process moving forward, however, is a bit unclear.
Council President Peter Marchetti said he believes the areas for metering was set by an ordinance. Director of Finance Matthew Kerwood said he believes the Columbus Avenue lot or garage was part of that ordinance and was just awaiting a resolution to issue with the garage. The online city code refers to a map in the city clerk's office, which iBerkshires had not had a chance to view as of publication time.
Nonetheless, Kerwood said the plan is to install three kiosks in the lot. Commissioner of Public Services David Turocy said exactly how many of the spaces will be metered, permitted, or left for such things as electric vehicle charging stations or car rental companies has yet to be determined.
Krol wanted to send his petition to the Ordinance and Rules Committee at first to be hashed out. But the council opted to send it to the mayor and the city solicitor to figure it out for now.
Ward 3 City Councilor Nicholas Caccamo, who sits on the Rules and Ordinance Committee, prefers it that way. Krol had first wanted his petition to go to that committee but it did not include legal language to change the ordinance. That would have left the Ordinance and Rules Committee to craft it from scratch. Caccamo suggested that a new petition is filed with that language. Marchetti then suggested that the petition is sent there but that Krol developed the language.
"It is not critical. It doesn't need to get done immediately," Caccamo said of having Krol refile a new petition.
The parking meters have been a hot topic since they were first broached in 2013. In granting money to renovate the McKay Street garage, the state required a parking management plan to be created. The city hired a consultant who developed the metering plan. In 2014, that was approved. But the meters weren't installed until two years later. The meters went live in 2017.
The Columbus Avenue garage particularly has been linked to those meters. For years the belief was that the state wasn't going to grant any money for the garage unless the parking plan was implemented. But even after that happened, the state did not release funds. Now the city is paying for the removal of the garage on its own and doesn't have the funds to build a three-story garage that it had originally asked.