Meredith to revaluate deal with church for downtown parking spaces

MEREDITH — At the request of Town Manager Phil Warren the Board of Selectmen on Monday reopened the question of a partnership between the town and the First Congregational Church to improve or develop the church parking lot directly across Highland Street from the town annex.
Warren said that although he could not find a formal written document, he understood that in 2007 the board, through then town manager Carol Granfield, and the church reached an agreement by which the church provided the town with 10 parking space for its employees and in return the town would maintain and plow the lot. Explaining that the original agreement contemplated expanding and improving the lot, Warren sought guidance from the board in negotiating with the church.
Warren said that in 2007 the cost of clearing and paving the lot would have been be approximately $148,000 if the Department of Public Works did the work and $271,000 if a contractor did the job. However, he said he was reluctant to burden the DPW with the project and estimated that a competitive bid for the work would be about $500,000.
If investing in the improvement of the lot was the price for 10 parking spaces, then "the town gets out of the lot and stays out of the lot," Selectman Lou Kahn said flatly.
Selectman Herb Vadney cautioned the board against surrendering parking downtown, which he said is "at a premium on summer days." He was echoed by Selectman Peter Brothers, who said he had "mixed emotions." Recalling the initial discussion in 2007, he said there were "a number of restrictions" on the use of the lot and that the board explored several alternatives to the church lot. "I hate to give up anything," Brothers said.
Warren reminded the board that the church used the lot on Mondays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and hosted other groups, like AA, and the Boy Scouts, in the evening and special events from time to time.
Kahn noted that the church's use of the lot has apparently increased and the town employees have other places to park, wondering "is it worth the expense" and declared "no one is saying pick up the $500,000."
"You're making a mountain out of a mole hill," Jim Hughes, a former selectman, told the board, "and its not a granite mountain. It's a sand mountain that can be spread around."
The board asked Warren to locate the original agreement and continue discussions with the church on the understanding that the town would not make a significant investment in improving the parking lot.
"I can assume the next time around, if there's an agreement, it's a written agreement," Kahn remarked.