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Winchester weighs parking changes to boost businesses

Winchester is weighing an overhaul of its parking rules as a way to spark new life in the downtown.

Developed by a joint committee created by the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board, the plan is a response to the longstanding frustration many residents experience trying to find a parking space downtown.

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The proposal seeks to address the problem by promoting greater turnover of on-street spaces, including providing incentives to use city lots for longer-term parking. Among its provisions are free one-hour parking on commercial streets, free 90-minute parking around municipal buildings, and paid parking in nearby lots.

Free all-day permits would be provided to town center employees to park in lots a few blocks away. Commuter parking at the Wedgemere and Winchester Center lots would be set at rates consistent with other MBTA parking facilities to minimize their use by out-of-town commuters.

The intent is to “reallocate and better manage spaces in the town center,’’ Lance R. Grenzeback, chairman of the Planning Board and cochairman of the Town Center Parking Study Committee, said of the proposed changes, which will be the subject of upcoming public meetings.

A parking study undertaken in 2010 found that there are enough spaces in the area, but that the town is “not making the best use of them,’’ Grenzeback noted. The study, which was carried out by a consultant, Nelson/Nygaard, formed the basis of the proposed plan.

Grenzeback said the town’s existing parking management program consists of a confusing patchwork of rules, noting for example that there are varying time limits, depending on the location, from 15 minutes to two hours.

He said on-street spaces in the core retail district are often taken up by business owners or employees, who move their cars to different spaces during the day to avoid running over time limits. As a result, people coming into the center to shop often cannot find a place to park.

“We want to make sure people coming into the town center to shop or go to business meetings or doctor’s appointments can get in and out of the town center,’’ Grenzeback said.

Better management of the parking also contributes to the larger goal of strengthening the vitality of the town center, an area that in addition to being Winchester’s commercial hub also includes Town Hall, the senior center, the public library, the police and fire stations, and three town schools, Grenzeback said.

An economic development study conducted about four years ago concluded that improving parking management was among the steps Winchester needed to take to support downtown businesses, according to town planner Elizabeth Ware.

By offering people who work downtown “attractively priced and reasonably well-located parking, our hope is to pull those office and retail employees off the primary retail streets and make those spaces available to shoppers. Doing that will strengthen the businesses in the town center,’’ said Selectman Tom Hawley, who cochairs the downtown parking committee.

Offficials emphasized the intent of the program is not to generate revenue for the town.

“You want to price the spaces and the lots so they are used appropriately to get sufficient turnover, particularly in the town center,’’ Grenzeback said.

Howley said the next steps in the process will be for Town Manager Richard C. Howard to develop specific cost and revenue figures, and to schedule public meetings at which residents and businesses can give feedback.

The plan is backed by the Winchester Chamber of Commerce, which participated in its development, according to chamber president Judy Manzo.

“What makes this a wonderful little walking village also makes it a parking nightmare,’’ said Manzo, who owns a bookstore in the center. “You’ve got all these people looking to park - for the trains, the shops, the services, Town Hall, the senior center, and the schools - all in the same area.

“We’re not going to find more parking. We want to manage the parking better.’’

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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