SHIRLEY -- Phoenix Bar and Grill co-owner Joseph Howlett sent a letter to selectmen that the board discussed Monday night. At issue were parking spots across from his Ayer Road business awarded as part of a grant-funded downtown revitalization project several years ago that are being used by rail riders instead of his customers.
"There were requirements" to participate in the program, he said, such as "beautification" of the building façade and planting shrubs, he said, all of which were met. In return, the popular eatery and nightspot got 10 parking spaces across the way.
The problem now is those spaces are often not available to his customers because they are occupied by commuter vehicles whose owners take the train from Shirley and park there all day, Howlett said. And with rail parking spreading well beyond the 25 spaces MART allocated for the purpose, other Ayer Road businesses, including a Real Estate firm and the local hardware store, have rail-related parking problems, he said.
He proposed erecting signs along the targeted stretch of Ayer Road where the businesses are located, setting a 2-hour parking limit for those parking spaces between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. The town put up similar signs on Phoenix Street when St. Anthony's Church experienced the same problem Howlett said, and the strategy worked and there are poles already in the ground across from the businesses to accommodate the signs.
Having discussed the commuter rail parking issue more than once before, the selectmen had no problem with Howlett's request and asked Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to contact DPW Foreman Paul Farrar about putting up the signs.
Former longtime MART board representative Richard Hatch said the problem is particularly bad during the winter and he concurred with Chairwoman Kendra Dumont that the temporary loss of spaces at the Leominster train station during parking garage construction makes it even worse.
Citing issues that have come up since he resigned from his post and with nobody on the board to represent the town, Hatch asked to be reappointed. Dumont was all for it. Selectman Robert Prescott readily concurred and the two voted unanimously to do so.
Wayside rent restriction lifted, document signed
The selectmen signed a legal document to remove an existing rent restriction covenant from the deed for Wayside Trailer Park on Clark Road, allowing its sale to a residents' co-op to move forward. Association members also signed the document.
The matter first came up a couple of weeks ago, when Andrew Danforth of Cooperative Development Institute, a New Hampshire non-profit, brought a request to lift the rent restriction to the board. He explained that his organization was assisting the recently-formed tenants association in their quest to buy the property from owner Richard Lannan and make the 31-acre, age-restricted "senior" community of 62 mobile homes into a co-op.
With a purchase and sales agreement in effect and a closing date set, Danforth said that finalizing the sale hinged on lifting the rent restriction placed on the property when it was hooked up to town sewer some time ago. After some discussion and having been assured that sewer betterments would be paid in full, the board agreed to lift it.
But before signing the document Monday night, Chairwoman Kendra Dumont raised concerns. She wanted to be sure all Wayside residents were represented and everyone was informed, she said, having been told by some folks at the Senior Center who live there that they didn't know about the sale.
Danforth said Lannan notified residents by certified mail that he aimed to sell the property and when an association was formed to buy it, the group did three regular mailings to Wayside households and held three meetings, plus door-to-door outreach.
"It's not a perfect system," Danforth said. But the initiative he outlined has followed democratic process every step of the way, he said, and the coop would function democratically as well, governed by legal tenets and its own bylaws.
To date, there are 44 association members, out of a total of 62 residences, Danforth said, or about 2/3 of the community. Those who don't opt to buy in will simply continue to pay rent, he said. However, membership has its perks, such as voting rights. The only added cost is a $100 membership fee. "That's their only investment," he said.
Asked if rents would go up with rent control removed, Danforth said yes, from $409 to $439 per month, with well over $200,000 in repairs on the to-do list, including electrical and water line work. But the association must approve expenditures over $1,000, he said. He also indicated that taxes might also factor into future rent hikes.
But Principal Assessor Becky Boucher said taxes at Wayside will go down substantially once the betterments are paid off.
Danforth also said that association board members are not paid and articles of incorporation prohibit any of them from making a profit on park's operations, even if it is sold in the future. The first board formed itself but after the sale there will be an election, he continued. Going forward, the entire association membership gets to vote the board in or out and initiatives up or down, he said, underscoring the premise that coop ownership is all about self governance and democratic process.
Asked what would happen if selectmen were to say no now, he said the closing set for later in the week would be off. But the selectmen said yes. With two of three members present, they signed the document, as did association officers.