Parking concerns plague potential new business in Marion

Feb 4, 2019

MARION – With the possibility of a drink lounge opening where the Bookstall once operated, neighbors expressed concern about parking at Monday night’s Planning Board meeting.

Mike Achilles and his wife want to open the Mary Celeste Neighborhood Lounge on Front Street, in the building recently vacated by the Bookstall. His goal is to create a “quiet place to come together and socialize after dinner,” he said.

Achilles told the Planning Board he presumed most people would walk to the lounge, but that drivers would be encouraged to park at the Town Wharf lot across from the Music Hall. However, both board members and neighbors expressed concern with the plan.

“My question is that [Town Wharf lot] is a town-owned lot, and I’m not quite sure if it’s proper for the town to be subsidizing parking for a business,” Planning Board member Eileen Marum said.

Resident Peter Douglas echoed that opinion.

“I object as a taxpayer of the use of a public lot to subsidize a private business,” he said. “The function of that lot is to support public events at the Music Hall, Town Bandstand and Town Wharf, not to subsidize businesses. Taxpayer resources shouldn’t be able to be taken advantage of by a business.”

Achilles said that as far as he understood, that lot was public and not just designated for town parking.

“There’s limited parking, that’s an issue,” he said. “But people will be coming from boats where they’ve already parked at the Town Wharf lot, or from the Music Hall after events. Most people will be walking; the assumption is most people will be in the village already.”

A couple residents spoke up and cited the Beverly Yacht Club, which has only two on-site parking spaces, as an example that customers and neighbors of the Mary Celeste will be able to make street parking work.

“We have the yacht club around the corner…there are events there every night in the summer,” resident Dan Crete said. “The Village can absorb a lot of parking…we all make it work.”

Parking in the village is a bit of a complicated issue. Town bylaws require that there must be one parking spot available for every two spots available in a business. However, because of the tight space on Front Street, mixed-use areas such as that allow for 70 percent of the required spots to be available. For the Mary Celeste, with a maximum occupancy of 50, about 18 parking spots would be required.

The Bookstall was opened in 1960, before traffic and parking was much of a concern. Planning Board Vice Chair Steve Kokkins said that there were very few regulations at that time regarding parking, and what few requirements there were were lax. 

“There were no zoning codes back then really,” he said.

Additionally, there is no on-street parking available on Front Street, and the narrow village roads make parking on the side streets difficult as well.

Due to the complex nature of parking in the Village, Planning Board member Andrew Daniel voiced his support for the business, and pointed out that this issue was not unique.

“Every business in that area has an issue with parking,” he said. “We can’t start picking on one business about it. Before we start criticizing parking here, we would have to look at the other businesses.”

Kate Ross, owner of Kate’s Simple Eats, expressed concern that Mary Celeste customers would park in the private lot she pays for in conjunction with the General Store.

“I have been renting [Kate’s] for a little over six years and the parking has been an issue since day one,” she said. “My concern is that people are going to park there for extended periods of time, and those are spots that we own and pay for.”

Mary Verni also expressed concern about parking from the perspective of another stakeholder on Front Street – the Sippican Woman’s Club.

“We already have an issue with parking, and it could impact members,” she said. “On Thursday night we have an evening event, so we do have evening events and it impacts our parking.”

The Sippican Woman’s Club uses money from fundraisers and its tenants on Front Street to pay for scholarships and other philanthropic efforts in town. Verni said she was worried the sound from the Mary Celeste could cause the club to lose its tenants.

“It could impact our mission which is giving to the town and the students,” she said.

Achilles said the hours of operation for the Mary Celeste would be 3 p.m., the time Kate’s usually closes, to 10 p.m. He hoped this would alleviate parking competition and noise issues.

“Our goal is that it’s a quiet environment, a mature environment,” he said.

Ultimately, the board wanted to clarify a few issues with the town’s attorney, such as whether or not the Town Wharf lot would count toward the parking requirement, before continuing with the hearing.

The public hearing was continued to Feb. 19 at 5:25 p.m. at the Marion Town House.