Reading about our Mayor’s parking meter “experiment” downtown raises troubling questions about whether our Mayor has a clear vision of what our community really needs from local government to thrive. See: www.chestertownspy.com/2009/09/park-on-park
Experiments are good, of course, if they are well thought through. In this “experiment” she is putting a hood over the head of the parking meters on Park Row, but what is it our Mayor seeking to learn? The meters don’t generate significant revenue; she’s risking nothing there.
These meters are only to prevent long-term parkers from hogging the spaces customers need. So, how will it help Park Row’s businesses to turn Park Row into Long Term Parking?
I’m told the real problem this Mayor wants to address is making sure the employees in the shops of High Street and Cross don’t need to pump quarters all day long. Their cars are taking up the parking that other stores want for their customers. If so, talk of helping Park Row businesses is pretense.
Is Mayor Bailey willing to stick Park Row with the Town’s employee parking? That will truly undermine Park Row’s businesses, already the step children of downtown commerce. More to the point, Chestertown’s mayor should know that the Park Row area needs much more serious Town intervention than a month of free parking.
In the 1980s Mayor Horsey hired Landscape Architect John Gutting to design High Street’s brick sidewalks and elegant tree wells. Then Mayor Horsey assembled Town funding to construct, as designed, the pedestrian friendly, shopping environment we now all enjoy on High Street.
Horsey then followed that up with streetscape improvements to Cross Street. High and Cross are the product of Town investment in professional design and enacted funding. Those investments from the 1980s have been paying dividends ever since. They are helping Chestertown’s downtown compete as a pedestrian oriented marketplace and as a wonderful place to live. They attract visitors and retirees, both of whom enrich our economy.
Creating employee parking on Park Row does the opposite – it undermines the economy there. And Park Row’s economy is already in terrible shape. I know because we recently purchased one of its most prominent buildings for only $125,000 – the value of the land alone.
Why so cheap? All previous owners invested nothing in its upkeep. For decades this building has been deteriorating. Now it is collapsing, worthless. Could this be the future of Park Row’s other historic structures?
Two other Park Row buildings have structural trouble, and the Town Arts Building on Spring Street, (across from the Post Office) is struggling, too. Why? Well for one reason, the Town has never invested in the streetscape for Park Row or for Spring Street. The pedestrian-friendly brickwork of Cross Street stops at the corner. Narrow concrete walkways along Park Row signal to shoppers, there is not much of promise to be found here, Spring Street included.
Mayor Horsey nurtured High and Cross over two decades ago. Our County Commissioners did likewise with the Courthouse campus in the 1990s. They invested in a landscaped parking lot, and along Cross Street, in a fence, broad brick sidewalks, a beautiful alee of trees – carefully planned by an accomplished designer – another example of local government investing with vision, in design and construction for the long term.
Our downtown parking issues do need to be thought about, but globally, so any changes made will achieve benefits for everyone – the merchants, the shoppers, the tourists and our residential neighborhoods, too. Where is our Town’s effort for doing this planning? Has our Mayor ever asked staff to draft a proposal?
Park Row lies at the heart of the downtown business district. It is one of the most public faces of Chestertown our visitors see, and even so, suffering from Town neglect. Worse yet, Park Row stands as a microcosm of the troubles that are plaguing our downtown generally.
Are our Mayor and Council satisfied to “live dangerously” on small-potato “experiments” which predictably make selected citizens’ bad situations still worse? Where are their strategies for investing in the pedestrian environment that our downtown businesses sorely need to thrive?
As a community, we have been trading on assets, wrought by the leadership of our past, but times are much tougher now. We need our leaders to be honest with us about our troubles, parking included. We need them willing to work with us all, to shape a shared vision together. We need leaders with courage, who are committed to shepherding our rich heritage toward an equitable and sustainable future. Leadership that seeks to pacify us, to put a hood over our heads, so we can’t see our troubles – that just won’t work for us any more.
Peter Newlin, President