NORTHAMPTON, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The shared streets and spaces project in Northampton is underway, sparking controversy from business owners and residents.
A petition to have the project reversed has been signed by over 50 businesses and 1,000 community members.
However, a petition to permanently keep the project has hundreds of signatures as well.
The city of Northampton received a $200,000 grant for the shared streets and spaces project, temporarily adding bike lanes and more walking space to keep people socially distanced because of the pandemic.
“Our goal was to support downtown businesses by trying to create safe spaces for them to operate in and for people to be able to move around downtown and feel safe,” said Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz.
However, the project is receiving mixed reviews. Over 250 community members signed a petition to have the changes in place permanently, but more than 1,000 community members and over 50 businesses have signed a petition to have the changes reversed, including Robert Bocon, the general manager of East Side Grill.
“It’s had a lot of impact and wasn’t necessarily planned for...the loss of parking, which is essential to everyone’s business, especially in this day and age when they’re just trying to stay afloat,” Bocon explained.
Bocon told Western Mass News he’s upset he didn’t have a voice during the city’s planning process and the changes are hurting his business.
“It’s confusing, it’s taking up time parking for them to safely get in and out, handicap parking, so that we’ve lost reservations for, because people are concerned about where they’re going to park and how long the walk is from where they have to park to a restaurant,” Bocon noted.
In 2015, the city of Northampton conducted a parking evaluation study with a price tag of nearly $30,000. The results gave a number of recommendations and found that parking accessibility downtown was necessary for success.
“The recommendations talked about raising the prices and extending the time and doing a lot of things that we ended up not doing because business owners were concerned,” Narkewicz explained.
In 2017, the city did another study and found close to 75 percent of people travel downtown in a motor vehicle, leaving many business owners confused with the new changes that take away parking spots.
“To take away the central-most prime parking at this time really doesn’t make sense,” Bocon said.
However, Narkewicz said parking is sufficient.
“We believe there’s ample parking downtown for people to do their shopping and dining,” Narkewicz said.
The mayor is hosting a meeting next Thursday to hear feedback from the public and businesses.