AYER -- It was but a passing mention at Tuesday's selectmen's meeting, but Ayer Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand advised the board to abandon a "hybrid" downtown parking concept.
The board has long advocated for the creation of two parking facilities downtown. The major one has consistently been considered for the corner of Park and Main Streets, expanding on the present parking lot for the Nashua River Rail Trail bike path. Once billed as an $11 million multi-tiered parking garage, the Rail Trail lot proposal has been scaled back to a $4 million open-air parking lot with the ability to add tiers at a later date if desired.
"That funding has all been secured," said Pontbriand. "That's not new news."
General fiscal turmoil at the state and federal level will have no affect on the Rail Trail lot funds, which are "not in jeopardy" said Pontbriand. And Pontbriand said the transfer of title of the Rail Trail lands from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to the town "is moving forward."
But Pontbriand suggested the board abandon talk of a smaller, secondary "hybrid approach" parking lot to the east of the downtown main commercial district to complement the Rail Trail project. Selectmen have pushed for a secondary, open-air parking lot atop three Central Avenue parcels located across the street from the Nashoba Club Restaurant.
Voters passed over selectmen's suggested $151,000 collective purchase price for the lots at the October 2010 Fall Town Meeting. Five months later, selectmen withdrew a near-identical set of warrant articles on the floor of the May 2011 Annual Town Meeting.
Selectmen had brokered a tentative $26,000 purchase and sales agreement with one parcel owner -- Richard Rakip as Trustee for RNR Trust Two -- on an undevelopable, half-acre parcel assessed at $4,100. Now, 18 months later, Pontbriand said the board has been advised by Rakip's attorneys that the time for performance has passed, and so the deal is void.
Pontbriand added that, after consultation with Economic Development Director David Maher, "In my opinion," the push to buy the lands is "not necessary ... This board is more in tuned than I ... I don't think it's the will of the people, given the current financial situation, to buy these three parcels."
Selectmen had also sought the purchase of a second Central Avenue parcel, a quarter-acre in size. The second lot, owned by Zodiac Development Co. Trust, was then assessed at $101,600. Selectmen suggested a $125,000 purchase price for the Zodiac parcel.
The third Central Avenue parcel identified was a smaller parcel totaling a tenth of an acre and owned by Ruth Maxant-Shulz, who is the sister of selectman Frank Maxant. The lot was assessed at $4,900. Selectmen had reportedly never had fruitful negotiations on a purchase price of the smallest of the three Central Avenue parcels.
Pontbriand suggested that, instead of a Central Avenue lot, motorists could temporarily park elsewhere while the Rail Trail lot is phased in. "That's what my recommendation would be," said Pontbriand. No board deliberation followed Pontbriand's recommendation at Tuesday's meeting.
Pontbriand said negotiations to purchase the necessary Park Street land parcels to construct the expanded Rail Trail parking facility "will begin in the beginning of February. That will speed-up again now that holidays are over."
Selectmen have maintained that there will be no eminent domain takings of Park Street businesses to assemble the land needed for the project. The targeted lots for purchase include all the business-zoned parcels along Park Street between the law offices of Thomas Gibbons to the north and Sovereign Bank to the south (but not including the law office and the bank itself).
In other business, Pontbriand advised that 2013 common victuallers and liquor license renewals went smoothly as 2012 drew to a close. "This was the best year for it since I've been here," said Pontbriand.
The deadline for businesses to pay outstanding water, sewer or tax bills in order to receive their new common victualler or liquor licenses was noon on Monday, Dec. 31. "It was much smoother this year. We had to twist a few arms and a few (licenses) were left in the vault, but in the end we got all the money (owed)."
Pontbriand also advised that there is an extended deadline for the public to respond to the Army's proposed arsenic-remediation proposal for the former Shepley's Hill landfill atop lands that once comprised the Fort Devens Army base.
Pontbriand said a meeting was planned for this Wednesday afternoon with the EPA, DEP and People of Ayer Concerned for the Environment (PACE) to hammer out the town's formal concerns with the Army's draft report, set a date for a newly-brokered public hearing to be conducted in Ayer, establish a list of directly affected Ayer abutters, and to draft a formal town government response to the proposal. The Army's proposal is available for public review in the selectmen's office. Pontbriand said an update would be provided to selectmen at its upcoming Jan. 22 meeting.
Also, Pontbriand noted that a mandatory public records law training session has been set for all elected and appointed town officials for Thursday, Jan. 17, from 10 a.m. to noon in the Great Hall, on the second floor of Town Hall. The secretary of state's office ordered the training over the summer. The order followed a public-records complaint lodged against two selectmen.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.