By Lisa Loomis
Business owners who rent space at the Mad River Valley Health Center want the town's help in dealing with a parking ban during snowstorms that is hurting their businesses.
The tenants will discuss the matter with representatives of the MRVHC board at the next select board meeting on December 22.
The matter was brought to the board on December 8 by Matt Sellers and Brian Fleisher, both of whom rent space and see clients on the third floor of the Health Center building. Members of the MRVHC board have twice been in to talk to the select board about the lack of adequate parking space at the new facility. MRVHC members asked for and received permission for overflow parking to be on the south side of the Old County Road.
What prompted Sellers and Fleisher to come in was a new sign that says that anyone parking on the south side of the Old County Road during a snowstorm will be towed.
"Not a day goes by that people aren't parked there and now we're faced with having people towed if they park there during a storm. I know this issue has been discussed before, but I don't remember being invited to that meeting, and now a decision has been handed down that affects our businesses," Sellers said.
"I wonder if the town has a plan for more parking -- I talked to the Health Center board and they don't have a plan. No one seems to have an answer. And this seems like a severe punishment, towing cars. People are allowed to park on Route 100 except from midnight to 7 a.m. in the winter and I wonder if that is something that could be implemented here?" he continued.
Sellers said he has had several instances of late clients who can't find a place to park and are afraid to get towed and other clients who don't show up at all because they have seen the signs and could not find a place to park during a snowstorm.
"You're asking the select board to solve a problem that the planning commission created," said select board member Paul Hartshorn.
HEALTH CENTER BOARD
"Well the town put up the signs. I'm assuming it was a select board decision. We, the tenants, have been put in a situation because the planning commission and Health Center board permitted a building without adequate parking," Sellers responded.
"We, the board, have been pretty tolerant of the situation there and the time it really comes into play is when we need to clear the snow," said board chair Charlie Hosford. He went on to report that the town has not purchased additional land for parking, nor does it have plans to create more parking on the field at the south side of Old County Road.
"We have worked diligently with the Health Center board, we've discussed this on multiple occasions," Hosford added.
"I apologize for coming in late, but I just heard about it. I'm being punished for renting space at the Health Center by this policy," Sellers said.
Fleisher asked the board about liability, should someone be injured on the Old County Road. He asked if the town would share liability there.
"It's a real safety issue, every day," Fleisher said.
Hosford asked the tenants about the possibility of parking employee cars "off campus" at the phone company or nearby garden center and Sellers said that there had been some discussion of it but that there had been bad politics between the garden center and Health Center.
"I came here to ask to put this back on the table. Can we expand the parking lot? Can we park on the road during business hours? It's becoming increasingly clear that people will just drive away rather than have their cars towed," Sellers said.
PAYING A PREMIUM
Board member Bill Parker asked if Sellers and others would park at the phone company if that were allowed.
"Yes, I would, but I'd be pretty perturbed. We're paying a premium for a nice, new space and it should come with parking," Sellers responded.
"It's a quasi-public building that the town chose to have as a community center," Fleisher pointed out.
Select board member Kate Williams pointed out that the interest the town has in this matter is that Sellers, Fleisher and possibly others are losing businesses because of the situation.
"We want to help set up a situation so that you're not losing customers," she said.
"I'd ask that this be brought back up with the board," Sellers said.