By Arielle Dollinger
Following what town spokesman A.J. Carter said was a miscommunication between the Town of Huntington and its contractor, construction on one of Huntington village’s few public parking lots began almost a week early.
Phase one of the two-phase project that will close more than half of the 235-space Gerard Street lot from now until mid-October was originally slated to begin on Monday, July 21. Instead, drivers arrived in the village on Wednesday to find two-thirds of the lot fenced off and filled with ripped-up road, piles of dirt and construction equipment.
The project will make such improvements as resurfacing, installing a bioswale drainage system and adding about 10 spaces.
“It [the parking lot] has not been redone since practically it was built in the 1950s,” Carter said. “There’s safety issues in that lot now.”
The 75-or-so remaining spaces in the lot – to be open until phase two of construction begins in mid-October – are a conglomerate of all-day and two-hour parking spots; for now.
The town’s goal, Carter said, is to keep spaces available for shoppers.
“Nothing has been changed right now, but I would say that if anything, we would move more toward the side of making all of the spaces two hours,” he said. “We want to have more spaces available for customers.”
When the second phase of the project beings, the estimated 160 closed spaces will reopen and the remaining third of the lot will undergo construction.
The project was at first to be completed in one phase in what Carter said was an effort to end construction before the holiday shopping season. But on Wednesday, Carter confirmed that the two-phase plan was officially back as a result of discussion with local merchants during Tuesday’s town board meeting.
To accommodate those affected by the construction, the town will provide transportation via shuttle from the Mill Dam Park lot back into Huntington village starting today.
But some merchants are less than enthused.
The Gerard Street lot, located across from the post office, provides parking for several of Huntington’s Main Street businesses with entrances facing the lot, including Rookies Sports Club, Panera Bread and Massa’s Pizzeria.
“We’re very apprehensive about the situation,” Devin Massa, manager at Massa’s, said of the construction project. “We’re not really sure what to expect out of it, considering we’re a new business.”
Massa’s opened its Huntington location in February and noted that – even before construction began – parking was an issue for clientele.
“It’s hard for people to find us as-is, so adding [the construction] into the situation, it could affect us more,” Massa said.
This construction project comes weeks after the town began its free valet parking service for the New Street lot on Fridays and Saturdays, and months after the town raised metered parking rates.
On Tuesday, a manager at Panera Bread said that she was unaware of any construction plan for the parking lot – and she isn’t the only one claiming to be uninformed.
At the town board meeting on Tuesday, Claudia Dowling, of Claudia Dowling Interiors, said that she did not know what was going on.
“We want to find out why we weren’t informed,” Dowling said.
According to Carter, the town sent letters to merchants at the end of June about the project’s “impending start.”
“There was no firm [start] date, and the town had planned to notify businesses again,” Carter said.
But then construction started early, making this week too late for that plan.
Carter said that the town would be sending notices to businesses with maps of free parking lots in the village.
“The economic ramifications of this to the businesses downtown is, I think, going to be pretty severe,” said Mary McDonald, owner of A Rise Above Bake Shop. “There may be no businesses down here left for people to park and go to once they finish all this.”
McDonald said that her Main Street bakery and other businesses have already been facing problems in recent months in the wake of the town’s parking meter fee increase, from a quarter an hour everywhere to $1 per hour on major roads and 50 cents per hour on side roads.
“We already have the issue with people being angry about the parking on Main Street,” she said. “So [this project] just exacerbates an ongoing problem down here in terms of parking.”
Carter said on Wednesday that the town would not do away with meter fees during construction.
Meanwhile, McDonald has been telling customers who put in phone orders that she will run their baked goods out to their cars if they cannot find parking.
The businesses whose public entrances face the Gerard Street lot will be able to remain open, Carter said, and there will be paths to their entrances.
In a letter to customers, Rookies Sports Club alerted customers to the construction and informed them of the accommodations the restaurant will make. Rookies will provide curbside pickup on Main Street, will open the Main Street entrance way that is usually exclusive to the arcade, and will validate metered parking up to $3 by deducting the amount from the meal receipt. As per usual, Rookies will continue to deliver locally.
“I am of course nervous about them doing the lot, because obviously there’ll be a temporary issue where… it will be hard for our customers to find parking,” said Rookies owner and manager Michelle Wright. “But I am optimistic and I do believe that it’s actually going to increase the business once it’s done.”
Wright was one of eight merchants who spoke before the town board Tuesday about changing the plan back from one phase to two.
“We explained that it would be detrimental to the business to not have any access for the customers,” she said.