Chris Perry Column: Turn Up The Heat On Off-Island Contractors Parking Downtown

Chris Perry •

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The downtown Stop & Shop parking lot owned by Nantucket Island Resorts. Photo by Kit Noble.

I am so confused.

All I wanted to do was head into town, grab my mail, and get a quick sandwich for lunch. It’s April not August - so what’s the problem?

I tried heading in via Centre Street. Detour - that did not work.

Then I tried the other side of town via Washington Street. On the stretch of road behind the NRTA and Christopher’s, there’s one painted lane for pedestrians on the right. One painted lane for bikes down the middle. One painted row for parked cars on the left. Where’s the painted lane for cars?

Now, I am really confused.

I think I will be able to sneak into town another way but the real question is where am I going to park? Right now, it seems congestion around town is very reminiscent of summertime conditions when the issue of downtown parking annually rears its ugly head.

With parking spaces limited, I decided to drive around and do my own quick, parking space count. You’ll probably get a different number from the town of Nantucket and the Planning Board, but using my definition of downtown parking, I came up with roughly 260 downtown parking spaces. That’s my unofficial count with one eye on the road while searching and one eye counting parking spaces. Take away a handful of handicap spaces, loading zones, taxi & tour bus spots and you are probably somewhere around 210.

Ironically, I think the downtown parking issue is easier to fix for the summer than it is right now. For example, if you have a permit to park on Main Street to sell baskets, flowers or produce, part of the application process should include a two-day stint with Dennis Caron learning how to back into a parking spot. While their presence is undeniably important on Main Street, Bartlett Farm taking up 3 parking spots for one truck is a tad aggressive.

Plus two spots there.

Gail’s Tours, Ara’s Tours and the tour bus companies…why do they get a free pass on Federal Street? The oversized vans and tour buses take up way too much space and they are harder to negotiate around the downtown streets than Capt. Hal Herrick trying to navigate Old Man Shoal in the fog. While a transportation center hosting all taxis, Ubers, buses, tour companies, NRTA, etc. is the answer, for now, I would dole out premium parking spots in town based on demand vs. tradition. Come summer, I can tell you that an electrician, plumber or HVAC tech is far more important and in greater demand than a tour through the cranberry bogs. Therefore, I would designate a few spots for those critical trades.

Plus four more spots.

But seriously, while my list for summer congestion and parking improvements is a mile long, my concern today is parking in town during the crucial period leading up to the summer season. Frankly, what’s preventing me and a lot of others from frequenting downtown merchants, restaurants, stores and the Stop & Shop parking area is an overwhelming number of off-island construction-related vehicles. Especially overnight, they are pirating downtown parking spaces with little to no consequences. In effect, we are enabling their efforts on-island by refusing to penalize them for “illegally” parking for days - weeks - months at a time.

Yup. That’s a broad brush but all you have to do is take a stroll through the Stop & Shop parking lot just after the 4:35 Hy-Line departs and see for yourself.

By my unofficial count, there’s an additional 120 spots in and around the downtown Stop & Shop parking lot, which is owned by Nantucket Island Resorts (NIR). Take away those spaces reserved as “Private,” plus a bunch of others that have been “spoken for” via side deals and you are looking at approximately 75 spots. Now, count the number of off-island trucks and vans using the parking lot as their private, on-island valet service and you’ll be hard pressed to find two dozen locals luckily enough to secure a coveted spot near the Hy-Line boat.

After getting denied at Stop & Shop, ride up Main Street and cruise around town and look for a parking spot. You’ll see off-island construction trucks everywhere - rarely ticketed and using the sidewalks as an expanded construction site. With the annual downtown explosion of local landscapers, window washers, shop keepers, restaurant owners and delivery services all starting to help open up downtown merchants for the summer season, it’s only going to get worse.

While an occasional parking ticket during the offseason might get the brief attention of an off-island crew, more often than not the ticket is simply treated as a cost of doing business. Consequently, the penalty does not fit the crime.

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But, it gets better. For months, the best parking deal for off-island contractors is NIR’s privately-owned Stop & Shop parking lot. They can “Park & Ride” - park on Nantucket for free and ride home to Hyannis - with little threat of penalty. Even with Norman Moore Jr. on retainer to tow, it is almost impossible for him to satisfy any “trespass towing” requests right now because there is no space to park the towed cars at Nantucket Auto Body or elsewhere. Moreover, between his AAA calls, requests from law enforcement and his daily demands at Nantucket Auto Body, he simply does not have the time. Nantucket Island Resorts would love to have him tow. Naushop, the Richmond Group, Nashaquisset too.

It’s a no win proposition for Moore despite the fact the towing charges are significant. Without any serious repercussions, off-island contractors such as Servpro, Perkins Heating & Cooling, Turner Brothers, Encore Fire Protection, Tyler HVAC, NU Motion, RCL Mechanical, Herman Heating & Cooling, Donnelly Electric and many, many more simply park their vehicles in the lot they command and pop on the fast boat steps away.

I know local contractors could not do the same in Hyannis; but here on Nantucket, it’s a pretty good gig… at our expense.

Am I a tad sour because I was unable to get an overnight spot on occasion this winter near Hy-Line’s fast ferry, and now it is virtually impossible to park late in the day?

I will be honest. I am.

Right now, locals can neither stop nor shop during the day for groceries because there are no parking spaces. And this past winter, I’ll admit that I was forced further away up to Orange and Ash Streets every once in a while. But, it wasn’t the walk down to the fast boat that bothered me. It was the walk back upon my return past so many off-island vehicles on a cold, rainy night that just did not sit well with me.

But, there’s more to this story.

One of the unwritten traditions on Nantucket during the off-season is overnight downtown parking including the much desired Stop & Shop parking lot. Historically, NIR has been generous to allow the “tradition” to continue even though they have periodically asked Norman Moore to tow. NIR director of retail, Henry Wyner, avoided any official comments, but thankfully, Norman knows his local constituency well and has held back.

But much like the winter golf memberships at Sankaty Head Golf that have been eliminated and the phased-out island tradition of stacking used, live Christmas trees after the holiday at selected erosion-prone beaches, old island traditions are being washed away faster than the sand at Cisco beach. It’s one thing to watch Mother Nature steal our sand and another to watch the Sankaty gentry further drive a wedge between their wealthy membership and the hardy locals who would give their right thumb for an opportunity to play Sankaty in the dead of winter. And to see off-island contractors visually dominate the downtown waterfront area at our expense hurts.

It’s just not right.

I get it. Supply and demand dictates additional manpower and that means more of an off island presence. But I just feel we are making it way too easy for them.

As Publilius Syrus once said: “It is folly to punish your neighbor by fire when you live next door…”

But, can’t we turn up the heat just a little?

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