By Peter Sloggatt
Members of a town committee charged with developing solutions to the parking crunch in Huntington are taking the temperature of downtown merchants and business owners on the feasibility of a parking garage in the village.
Bob Scheiner, David Walsdorf and Dave Panetta, who serve as the steering committee for the Huntington Village Parking Consortium, provided details and took questions at a meeting with village merchants Monday. The meeting was organized by Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce to gauge whether there is support for such a proposal, and to bring merchants up to speed on where the proposal currently stands.
The parking structure was among possible solutions detailed in a 2013 study commissioned by the Huntington Village Parking Consortium. The study, conducted by the engineering firm Nelson Nygaard, was funded by the consortium, which includes the town, EDC, Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce, Huntington Village Business Improvement District and Paramount Theater. Several recommendations from the study already implemented include use of muni-meters with premium pricing in the high-demand, core areas on Main Street and New York Avenue, as well as less successful efforts like valet parking, and shuttles.
Scheiner, an architect and member of senior management at H2M Engineers, noted that the town has added some 150 spaces through land acquisitions and leases over the years, but municipal lots are still used to over-capacity during peak hours.
“After all these things, it led to: There probably should be a parking garage. It should be on Green Street [the municipal lot between Green and New streets]. And it should be multilevel,” Schiener said. However, he added, the town ran into difficulty with financing because debt service on the project would cause it to pierce the 2-percent tax cap, so alternative avenues were pursued. A request for proposals from the private sector brought in plans for apartments over parking that were judged over-intense.
“We tried to do it through a public-private partnership,” combining apartments and public parking, Panetta said. “What we ended up with was an $80-million project to solve a $20-million problem.”
That led the committee to consider a public benefit corporation, which could bond the project like a municipality.
“We brought in Level G Associates and asked, ‘How do we build this?’” Scheiner said. The Bethpage-based consulting company came back with a plan for self-funding a project by forming a local development corporation that would allow be able to bond the project’s costs, and pay debt service through parking fees.
They came up with a garage that covers a small portion of the Green Street lot raising taxes for the debt service.
Level G’s plan generates 370 more spaces on three stories, according to Scheiner. “The question was how do you drive people to use it to generate cash” to pay the bond?
The answer to that question would likely result in all municipal parking lots in the downtown’s core area becoming pay lots, he said.
The committee also acknowledged that construction would bring an additional parking crunch of its own.
“We know there’s going to be issues we’ll have to deal with during construction,” Schiener said, adding they will look into use of “buses or shuttles.”
Since just a half-dozen merchants and businesses were represented at the meeting, he added that the committee would likely conduct surveys to gauge support among the merchants whose businesses would likely be affected during construction.