Revise STM Warrant Article to Enhance Municipal Parking

by Alan Roth*

The voters’ overwhelming approval of a new police station on Jerome Smith Road should put that matter to rest. Still, Barbara Rushmore’s petition for a June 19 Special Town Meeting shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Instead, she and town voters should consider reframing the discussion of her proposed warrant article.

Put the police station issue aside. In a town often starved for parking during peak season and searching for revenues to provide relief to local taxpayers, her proposal concerning the Riley parking lot should get serious thought for another reason.

Municipal parking is an accepted and legitimate town function, and there isn’t enough of it. Why does Provincetown continue to allow an enormous private parking operation to cannibalize the town’s own parking revenues by diverting drivers off Bradford Street before they even see, much less reach, the town’s own lots on MacMillan Pier, Alden Street, or Prince Street?

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decisions have approved the use of eminent domain for municipal parking purposes for more than 60 years. Through this process, Provincetown could take over this lot for municipal parking, implement demand-managed pricing across all its lots in the town center, and over time probably generate additional revenue. As the Constitution requires, the Rileys would be paid fair market value — but not a premium — for their land and buildings.

The rear of the structure adjacent to the Riley lot is currently an eyesore and has little serious historic value. At small cost, it could be razed to make room for more parking (and more town revenue). And the town’s costs could be further reduced by eliminating 136 Bradford Street from the warrant article. That parcel, currently assessed at $721,000 but undoubtedly worth more, houses a bicycle shop and some apartments. The town has no reason to exercise eminent domain over it.

How would all this be paid for? Ms. Rushmore is generally correct: Revenues from the lot’s 350 or more spaces can be dedicated to paying off bonds to finance the purchase. Municipal bond interest rates are near their all-time lows. And the value of real estate in Provincetown isn’t going down — so making this decision won’t be cheaper five or ten years from now. True, we’d lose some property tax revenue; by my rough calculation, it’s an amount equal to less than four cloudy summer days of parking revenue.

For $6.3 million, Riley Brothers Realty LLC purchased four lots in April 2015. Eminent domain will give them a fair return on three of them, protect the town’s long-term parking and revenue interests, and avoid a much more expensive and perhaps inevitable future transaction. A properly crafted amendment to the STM warrant article can begin to accomplish these goals on June 19. A future bond issue vote will be necessary but, at the very least, the Selectmen ought to do the math.

* The author has been a part-time Provincetown resident since 2000.