Beacon developers squabble over parking
The Beacon City Council appears ready to move forward with an agreement to resolve a parking dispute between the former and present owners of the 344 Main St. apartment building, although the council tabled its vote on the proposal this week with only four members present for its July 6 meeting.
The spaces in question have become part of a confusing back-and-forth involving two parking lots in recent weeks after former 344 Main owner Sean O’Donnell brought a new (and neighboring) four-story project at 364 Main St. to the Planning Board last month. O’Donnell’s new project proposes to utilize a parking lot behind 364 Main that was once used for 344 Main’s tenants.
A lot — no pun intended — had already happened before that.
In 2016, the city began leasing 24 parking spaces in the municipal lot between Eliza and North Chestnut streets and on Church Street to O’Donnell, then the owner of 344 Main, which received Planning Board approval that year.
A year later, however, the City Council canceled the lease after a blow-up between then-Mayor Randy Casale and O’Donnell’s attorney, Patrick Moore. Casale and Moore sparred during a council meeting because O’Donnell had purchased 364 Main St. and the parking lot behind the building, but Moore argued that 344 Main’s parking should still come from the city’s inventory of spaces.
In 2017, Bernard Kohn bought 344 Main St., which was under construction, from O’Donnell. (That same year, Kohn led the investment group that purchased the 64-acre estate that includes the former Craig House psychiatric facility and, in 2018, he purchased the 248 Tioronda development, as well.) Kohn began leasing the spaces owned by O’Donnell behind 364 Main for the tenants at 344 Main St., but attorney Taylor Palmer told the Planning Board last month that Kohn had defaulted on the lease and O’Donnell would be using those spaces for his 364 Main development.
City Administrator Chris White asked the council two weeks ago to allow him to re-lease the 24 municipal spaces (there are 117 in all in the Eliza Street lot and on Church Street) to Kohn for 344 Main for $50 each per month — a $10 increase over the city’s 2016 rate. White proposed a five-year deal that would net the city $72,000.
The only other options, he said, are to revoke the certificate of occupancy for 344 Main or to have Kohn go back to the Planning Board to request a waiver for the spaces he’s required to provide.
“The model that we’re moving toward is less about private parking and more about having people pay into a parking fund and having a Main Street-wide parking district where the city owns and can improve and eventually do structured parking on our parking lots — and in some cases redevelop them with buildings over them and parking underneath,” White told the council during its June 28 workshop.
But given the limited options at 344 Main, “I figured it’s better for us to take $72,000 for our parking fund than to have Mr. Kohn spend tens of thousands of dollars fighting this out at the Planning Board and then we don’t get anything,” he said.
The council grudgingly agreed with White, but not before a nearly hour-long discussion on the mistakes made at 344 Main St., and how to avoid making them again.
“I hate everything about this,” said Council Member Jodi McCredo. “I think the people that are involved knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when they got involved in it. This is exactly what everybody has been complaining about for the past five or six years. The developers come in, they do whatever they want to do, they make their money and the city is left holding the bag.”
But with little restrictions on municipal lots (only that a car cannot stay in the same space for more than 24 hours), there’s nothing stopping Kohn’s tenants from using the city’s spaces now.
“I don’t disagree with you about anything. I’m just looking for a way to mitigate this,” White said, calling the proposal a “practical solution.” If the city revoked 344 Main’s certificate of occupancy, “the only thing that could make this ugly building worse is if it’s not maintained,” he said. “If the [certificate of occupancy] could take away how big the building is, I’d take a run at it. But that [opportunity] has long passed at this point.”
Mayor Lee Kyriacou said that Beacon has “to get back to that system where buildings that don’t have their own parking need to contribute to a fund” earmarked for a citywide parking system. But he seemed willing to work with Kohn on his issue, noting that the developer inherited, after his purchase, a project at 344 Main that city officials had erroneously approved and allowed to sprawl three feet into the public sidewalk.
“My understanding was the new owner just said ‘fix it,’” Kyriacou said. “And [he] just paid for it.”
The City Council is expected to revisit White’s proposal at its July 19 meeting after opting not to vote this week. That didn’t stop city resident Theresa Kraft from taking the council to task on Tuesday. “You are about to give away a section of the city’s public parking for little more than a dollar per spot,” she said, while noting that the developer, Kohn, is on the Zoning Board of Appeals’ July 20 agenda, seeking permission to build the 64-apartment residential component at 248 Tioronda before constructing its 25,400 square feet of commercial space.
“This request should raise all the red flags,” Kraft said.
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