Parking enforcement to resume in Athol’s downtown

Athol resident Paul Landry (right) has been appointed as the new ‘parking ambassador’ for the Town of Athol. Landry, who was introduced last Tuesday to the Downtown Parking Benefits District Oversight Committee, will spend 10 hours a week patrolling Main Street and several adjacent streets in the downtown area. He will begin his patrols — the first in nearly five years — in the week ahead.

Athol resident Paul Landry (right) has been appointed as the new ‘parking ambassador’ for the Town of Athol. Landry, who was introduced last Tuesday to the Downtown Parking Benefits District Oversight Committee, will spend 10 hours a week patrolling Main Street and several adjacent streets in the downtown area. He will begin his patrols — the first in nearly five years — in the week ahead. PHOTO BY GREG VINE

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 11-27-2023 5:09 PM

ATHOL – For years, visitors to downtown Athol have been able to forego feeding the meters along Main Street – and some side streets – without fear of receiving a parking ticket, but that is about to change.

Athol has been without a parking enforcement officer since Norm Purple left the post seven years ago. In June 2021, after a couple of unsuccessful attempts, the Downtown Vitality Committee (DVC) was able to convince Athol voters to create a Downtown Parking Benefits District (DPBD) to help fund improvements in that area, as well as provide the funding needed to hire a new ‘parking ambassador.’ Monies for projects and pay will come from parking meter receipts, and a Parking Benefits District Oversight Committee was created to make recommendations on the disbursement of those funds.

For a variety of reasons, the hiring of the parking ambassador was delayed by nearly two and a half years. However, with life generally having returned to normal, Athol resident Paul Landry has been chosen to stroll Main, Exchange, and several other streets hunting for vehicles parked at expired meters. Landry’s appointment was officially announced at the DPBD Oversight Committee meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 21. He is set to begin with his duties sometime in the week ahead, working 10 hours per week at $20 per hour. Landry will vary the hours and occasionally the days he will be on the beat.

Landy was chosen to fill the post following discussions with Town Manager Shaun Suhoski and Athol Police Lt. Ron Cote, who worked with the DVC to determine Landy’s pay and responsibilities. Landry said motorists will have some time to get used to the return of parking enforcement.

“We talked about doing two weeks of just writing warnings,” he said. “It’s been about four years since we’ve had a parking ambassador. People are used to getting out of their car and going about their business.”

Cote said a recent distribution of fliers alerting people to the start of the winter parking ban (Nov. 15–April 15) worked very well. He felt a similar effort relative to the return of downtown parking enforcement would likely be as effective.

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“We got them (the fliers) out and the cars were off the streets within two days,” Cote said. “It’s up to the Selectboard to decide what they want to do.”

In March 2021—three months before voters approved creation of the downtown district—Athol’s Selectboard doubled parking meter rates from 25 to 50 cents per hour, with a maximum of two hours allowed at each spot. The board took the action after DVC Chair Mary Holtorf had presented members with a letter signed by 17 downtown merchants – and 48 patrons of a variety of downtown businesses – recommending the increase. The fine for parking at an expired meter is $25.

Other matters

During Tuesday’s meeting of the DPBD Oversight Committee, Planning and Development Director Eric Smith announced that the committee is seeking an Athol resident, downtown property owner, or business owner to fill a vacancy. The committee is made up of a single representative from the Selectboard, Board of Planning and Community Development, Capital Planning Committee, Downtown Vitality Committee, and Finance and Warrant Advisory Committee, in addition to two representatives from the public.

A release from the Planning Office states, “The committee is charged with reviewing potential projects (paid for) with parking meter receipts, which will include, but not be limited to, maintenance of parking meters, (parking) enforcement, and various downtown improvements as allowed by state law.”

The expenditure of funds under the committee’s oversight must be approved by Town Meeting. The committee meets about nine times per year at 5 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month.

Anyone interested in serving on the committee is asked to submit a letter of interest by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 12 to: Eric R. Smith, AICP, Director of Planning & Community Development, Town of Athol, 584 Main Street, Room 29, Athol 01331. Letters may also be submitted via email at: esmith@townofathol.org. For questions, call (978)721-8500, X-517.

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@gmail.com.