Councillors Raise Questions Over Proposed Garage

By SCOTT JACKSON

City councillors on Thursday raised a number of questions about a proposed 730-car garage on the Hancock Lot, including how the city plans to accommodate those who currently on park on site once the lot closes in early 2018 and the cost of the proposed structure.

The council’s finance committee met for four-and-a-half hours Thursday to review plans for the garage as part of the committee’s review of an $80 million bond proposed by Mayor Thomas Koch that would pay for the garage, several land takings and infrastructure improvements meant to support redevelopment of Quincy Center.

The council also held a public hearing on the proposed $80 million bond Thursday, during which nine union members and the president of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce voiced their support for the plan.

The finance committee is set to deliberate the $80 million bond again on Monday night, the council’s last regular meeting before recessing for the summer.

Construction of the 730-car garage is set to begin in the first quarter of 2018. Two private projects will also be under construction at that time – Peter O’Connell’s 124-unit Chestnut Place on the Dennis Ryan Parkway and LBC Partners’ 171-unit Nova Residences at 1500 Hancock St. The City Council has approved land disposition agreements with each developer; LBC has received approval from the Planning Board as well, while O’Connell’s project is pending before the board.

Per terms of the LDA with O’Connell, the council would need to take a separate vote to approve final design of the garage once that is finalized.

The Hancock Lot will be closed during construction of those projects, said William Geary, Koch’s special counsel for downtown development. The LBC project is set to begin this summer, and up to 150 spaces will be lost at that time, with the remaining 292 spaces closing next year.

Several councillors asked Geary what would happen once the lot closes for construction of the garage and the private developments, which are expected to take up 18 months.

“Where will everybody park?” said Councillor Noel DiBona, noting the Hancock Lot is used by a number of business for their customers and employees, those going to the Quincy District Courthouse and others.

Councillor Joseph Finn noted the Hancock Lot will be closed at the same time the MBTA station in Wollaston is shutdown for renovations and a mixed-use development begins at the North Quincy station’s parking lot, both of which will result in a loss of parking spaces.

“I just fear that we’re going to be really clobbered here,” he said.

Geary said the plan for mitigating those loss of spaces should be completed by the end of the summer.

“That plan is in the process of being assembled,” he said. “That will be completed certainly before we commence full construction – we’re hoping to have it pretty much formulated by the end of the summer.”

The surface lots where the Ross Garage once stood are currently underutilized, Geary stated, and could accommodate the 150 spaces being displaced this summer. Those lots could also be restriped to provide even more spaces, and attendants could be used to park vehicles on those sites to maximize the amount of space there, similar to several lots and garages in Boston, Geary said.

Additionally, city officials are looking at private parking facilities in Quincy Center to see if those could be used. Geary said the parking lot at Presidents Place, located at 1250 Hancock St., has about 100 spaces that go unused during the day and 125 available during the evenings.

The city has also reached an agreement with Norfolk County that allows the public to use the courthouse parking lot after 5 p.m. on weekdays and on weekends and holidays. Geary said the parking lot at the Coddington Building, where the Quincy Public Schools are headquartered, would also be made available outside of business hours.

The construction workers who will be building the garage and the two private developments will be bused in from offsite parking lots, Geary said. The locations of those muster points has yet to be determined.

The garage structure is projected to cost $29.9 million and the city also expects to spend $1 million on a custom façade for the facility. Other costs associated with garage construction in the bond measure include $3.2 million for final design and engineering; $3.5 million for site work, including construction of access ways to the facility; $2.3 million to relocate a century-old storm drain under the Hancock Lot; $1.6 million in environmental work, including soil and groundwater management; and $3.8 million for escalation and contingency.

Ward 4 Councillor Brian Palmucci questioned the garage’s price tag, noting the city would be paying over $41,000 per space.

“The spaces are going to cost more than any of the cars parking there,” he said. “It’s like the Taj Mahgarage.”

As currently planned, the garage would include a basement level and four levels of parking above. City officials and the consultant working on the garage design, Chicago-based Desman Associates, said the basement level was included in the plans to keep the garage’s height at four stories, reducing its massing. Without the basement level, the garage would need to be five-and-a-half stories tall to accommodate the same number of spaces.

Palmucci asked those officials to provide an estimate on how much the city could save by building the garage only above ground.

Palmucci and two ward councillors who represent portions of the downtown – Ward 1 Councillor Margaret Laforest and Ward 2 Councillor Brad Croall, the finance committee chairman – all suggested the city needs to do a better reaching out to people affected by the ongoing work in Quincy Center.

“In terms of the communications strategy, you guys need to step it up, period,” Croall said.

Laforest and Croall said Quincy should do what MassDOT has done for the Fore River Bridge project. MassDOT has established both a website and a 24-7 hotline for that project.

Geary acknowledged the councillors’ concern about communications.

“We obviously need to be more robust in our outreach to the community,” he said.

The union workers who spoke at the public hearing, all of whom were Quincy residents, said the project would provide jobs during construction and also give the area much needed parking to support the downtown redevelopment.

Tim Cahill, the president of the Quincy Chamber of Commerce, said the proposed garage was important for the downtown and would be aesthetically pleasing for Revere Road residents living opposite the Hancock Lot.

“As a resident of Quincy and as a representative of the business community, I think this is in the right direction,” Cahill said.

“Most communities put the parking in after the buildings are done – Cambridge, Somerville and even Boston. I think it’s wise act on this to get the parking garage ready before the buildings are going to go up.”

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