Selectmen want answers on Simes House parking concerns

The main stairway of the Simes House.

Selectmen want concerns about parking addressed before they’ll give their blessing to a Town Meeting warrant article that would change the zoning for the Simes House.

Neighbors to the Simes House have expressed concerns about where visitors to the Simes House will park their cars. Manomet Village Commons President John Moody tried to offer some answers, and some apologies, during Tuesday night’s Board of Selectmen’s meeting.

Manomet Village Commons Incorporated has contracted with the town to manage the building. the group wants to change the zoning in order to allow fundraisers and events to take place at the Simes House.

Moody told the board he had received a verbal commitment from Luke’s Liquors to use some of the spaces in their auxiliary parking lot located across Strand Avenue from the store. He also reported that three of the tenants of Manomet Plaza, across the street from the Simes House supported allowing the MVCI to use spaces there. The decision about using that parking lot is up to the plaza’s owner who has been, Moody said, unresponsive. A large sign warning drivers not to park there unless shopping at the plaza has been erected across the street from the Simes House.

As for the Simes House itself, Moody said the parking behind the building was intended solely for the building’s tenants, as well as providing handicapped parking. Visitors were expected to park on the front lawn, he said. He estimated that between 18 to 26 cars could park on the front lawn depending on how they were arranged. If agreements with neighbors are reached there would be parking for 50 cars total.

Town Meeting Member Tom Kelley expressed skepticism about the parking plan. He noted the fact that the owner of Manomet Plaza has, so far, expressed no interest in allowing Simes House parking there. As for the grass lot, he wondered how long it would last with cars parked on it.

Mark Reider, an Old Colony Drive resident who runs a snow plow business, asked where snow would be placed after a storm. Selectman Shelagh Joyce also raised that concern and added that she was opposed to parking at Luke’s, saying it would add to traffic problems when the store is busy.

Moody admitted to some early miscommunications with neighbors about the parking. The lawn, which is built to handle cars, was not ready when some government meetings were held, resulting in too many cars parking in the back lot. He admitted he should have reached out to the neighbors to assure them the parking problems would be short term. “For that oversight, I apologize sincerely, “ he said. Moody said he would hold monthly meetings to hear the neighbors’ concerns.

As for the rezoning itself, the MVCI wants to host about six private events and an equal number of fundraisers at the house. Current zoning does not allow that. According to Moody, those events would help make up a shortfall in the Simes House budget. The MVCI expects that renting out a pair of apartments on the top floor of the house and four offices on the second floor would generate most of its revenue.

Kelley, who said he voted to fund the renovation at Town Meeting, said local zoning is based on a “comprehensive plan which protects everybody.”  The Simes House is currently zoned residential and sits between both commercial and residential zones. The MVCI is seeking to have the building reclassified  as transitional zoning.

Kelley expressed concerns that, if the MVCI cannot successfully operate the Simes House, a potential buyer could come in with some more disruptive business. Town Planning Director Lee Hartmann explained the permitted uses are very limited in transitional commercial districts. He added that, if needed, the town could always change the building’s zoning again. “If we resell it, we can rezone it,” he said.

Many of those in the room, including some officials, expressed mixed feelings about the project. Sandra King, an Old Colony Drive resident opposed to the zoning change, thanked Randy Parker, who spearheaded the drive to restore the house, for doing just that. Reider also praised the renovation. Board of Selectman Chairman Ken Tavares said the parking problems weren’t fair to residents, but he saw merit in both sides of the argument. Selectman Betty Cavacco expressed the hope that an understanding could be reached among all the parties. “this is a little difficult, but now that we have it I want it to be successful,” she said.

The Board, at Tavares suggestion, voted to table supporting the warrant article until Moody could return with a written agreement outlining where additional parking would go.

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