MIDDLETOWN – The message from a developer looking to build apartments downtown was clear: if Middletown wants more people living in its commercial center, it is going to need to deal with parking.
Two separate proposals from different developers would add a combined 65 apartments near the intersection of Main and Washington streets in the center of downtown Middletown – moving the city towards its goal of promoting mixed-use and residential spaces in the district, but raising concerns about the additional cars would affect a parking situation that is already a source of headaches for residents and visitors.
Investor David Marasow has proposed converting the former Bob’s Stores building at 339 Main Street into commercial space and 48 small, mainly one-bedroom and studio apartments. Jed Sosnowitz is proposing to convert the vacant former Sicilian Garibaldi Society building at 54 Washington Street – between Main Street and Route 9 – into 17 mainly studio apartments.
Marasow was asking for the Planning and Zoning Commission to reduce his parking requirement from 50 to 25 spaces. He expects some of the residents in his building won’t have cars, and doesn’t believe he should have to pay for spaces that won’t be used.
Marasow said he wants his units to be market rate – aiming for about $1,350 a month for the one-bedroom units. He said would pass the cost of parking on to the tenants, but doesn’t want to add unnecessary costs. The property is already difficult to make into a feasible project, and other developers have tried and failed in the past, he said.
“There’s a certain amount of money that makes sense to put towards an old building, and after a certain point, it’s just going to stay vacant for many years, and it looks like that’s been the case,” Marasow said. “Many have tried and haven’t succeeded, it’s definitely a complicated project.”
Marasow said he had an option with the Middlesex Corporate Center Parking Garage on Court Street to rent up to 45 spaces for $75 per month each, and could ask for up to 50 if the commission was unwilling to let him reduce the requirements.
When asked why he couldn’t just go ahead and rent the 50 spaces to satisfy the parking requirements, Marasow said he wanted to address the parking issue now, before more developers start looking to add apartments downtown and the problem gets worse.
There are only so many parking spaces available, and if every developer reaches an agreement with a parking garage to reserve more spaces than they actually need, it will come to a point where one building needs to use spaces that are reserved for another building – they will be double dipping, he said.
“I think it’s important that we work together as a community to solve this problem,” Marasow said. “It’s not just going to be my problem. Ten years from now, five years from now, it’ll be a new guy down the block with the same challenge. I suggest, or hope, that we as a city together can work to come up with a long-term plan.”
Commission members were unwilling to reduce the parking requirements, but indicated they would approve Marasow’s application if he returned at the next commission meeting with documentation showing he would have 50 spaces available in the garage.
“I’m ready to get 50 spots,” Marasow said. “The reason why I came here was that I was hoping to get that to 25, but I realize this is a real issue to downtown, and it’s going to bother a lot of people. Like I said in the beginning, I’m not looking to fight with downtown, so if this is the best way to get this done, we’ll go work on it and make it happen.”
Sandra Russo, Downtown Business District coordinator, said there are business and building owners downtown who are excited about Marasow’s proposal for the Bob’s building, but said its impact on parking is a major concern.
The metered parking spaces along Main Street are currently used by customers visiting businesses for a short period of time, but the district is concerned that with additional apartments on Main Street those spaces will be taken by residents of the building and their visitors.
Larry McHugh, president of the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, agreed that parking was a major concern with the project. Street parking and garages are frequently full, especially on weekend nights, and downtown businesses can’t afford to lose any more of the spaces their patrons use when visiting downtown.
“The parking issue must be settled before this proposal moves forward,” McHugh said.
Commissioner Seb Giuliano, who told Marasow that his best bet would be to comply with the parking requirements, said that the commission can’t look at what some other developer might do in the future, and can only address issues that are in front of it.
Commissioner Kellin Atherton said that, while the commission was not going to resolve the parking issue that night, Marasow raised a critical issue that the city will need to resolve as it looks to promote mixed-use developments downtown.
“This is clearly a problem we need to solve as a city if we are going to be in compliance with our [Plan of Conservation and Development] to support our business community and entertain residents, and support new residents as we grow the city,” Atherton said.
Parking also dominated discussion around Sosnowitz’s proposal for apartments on Washington Street, though he agreed to rent the required 20 spaces from the city-owned parking arcade on Court Street. The commission voted unanimously to approve his application.
The commission on Wednesday also approved having the city acquire a property at 31 Rapallo Avenue – where an apartment building burned in 2018 and was demolished – to use temporarily as a parking lot to alleviate parking issues on the North End until the property is developed.
That is only intended to be a temporary move, and the 0.21 acre lot is far from a solution for parking woes in the area. Economic Development Director Joe Samolis said that downtown parking is an issue that the city is going to be looking at over the next year.
“We have a parking paradigm that really needs to be fixed, in terms of how and when people are parking – either on our streets or in our lots – how they are enforced, how they have to pay, when they have to pay until,” Samolis said. “The paradigm really needs to be adjusted for the growing demand that we’re seeing in terms of redevelopment downtown.”