After more than a decade of debate, Portsmouth is getting a new parking garage. City councilors unanimously voted in favor of bonding $23.2 million for a new 600-space garage at 165 Deer St. in the city’s North End. Six votes were needed to pass bonding for the project.
The five-story, 58-foot-high garage will be located near the current site of Gary’s Beverages. The city is slated to purchase the land from Deer Street Associates. Preliminary plans for the garage include liner buildings with micro-apartments and civic space. According to city manager John Bohenko, revenue from the garage, as well as an increase in parking rates at the city’s High Hanover parking garage and at metered spaces in the city, will help pay for the project.
The vote came after a nearly four-hour meeting. About 150 people turned out for the meeting, and during a two-hour public comment session, about 40 people offered up their thoughts on the garage. The discussion was long — the line for speakers stretched out the door of the council’s chambers — and lively, with speakers offering up songs, quotations, and impromptu public surveys for and against the garage.
At the meeting, opinion was largely in favor of the garage, with a number of supporters sporting blue pro-garage stickers handed out by resident Jason Boucher. Only five people spoke against the garage.
“If you want to enjoy our town, you need us here and thriving.” — Kerry LaJoie,
owner of Hazel Boutique
Kerry LaJoie, owner of Hazel Boutique in Commercial Alley, spoke in favor of the garage. She told councilors that she and other business owners have seen the effects of the city’s dearth of parking spaces firsthand, with lost business and fewer visits from frequent customers.
“If you want to enjoy our town, you need us here and thriving,” she said.
During her testimony, school board member Nancy Novelline Clayburgh sang her own pro-garage song, to the tune of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Other comments in favor of the garage came from former mayors Steve Marchand and Peter Weeks and dozens of downtown business owners and city residents.
The opposition was no less spirited, with local attorney Susan Danenberg and former city council candidates Joe Calderola and Rick Becksted offering multiple comments against the garage. Among the criticisms were that parking revenues wouldn’t be enough to pay for the project and taxpayers would have to pick up the cost and that the city hasn’t done enough to implement a comprehensive parking and transportation plan.
During the council’s deliberation, councilor Christine Dwyer said officials are “under no illusion that we won’t have to plan for more parking” in the future.
“I understand we haven’t solved the problem for all time … but you don’t do that in urban planning,” she said.
Top of page: The future site of a new parking garage on Deer Street. Photo by Charlie Weinmann