Maple Tree parking talks continue (8/6/09)

McGuire: deal for land ‘very close’

Aug. 6, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The bad economy may have dulled sales, but the owner of Maple Tree Place continues to seek a deal to expand parking at the busy retail center.

Inland Western asked the town last year to consider leasing municipally controlled land for a new parking lot at the retail center. The 1.2-acre parcel is located adjacent to the shopping center, near Men’s Wearhouse.

There have been only three face-to-face meetings between Williston officials and Inland representatives since the Selectboard gave the go-ahead to start negotiations last December, said Town Manager Rick McGuire. There has also been correspondence via e-mail and telephone, however, and McGuire is hopeful an agreement may be in the offing.

“It’s been several weeks since the last negotiating session,” he said. “But I think we’re very close.”

McGuire would not say how much the town was seeking for the lease and declined to disclose other specifics. He said the main issues to be settled are the price and length of lease.

There was a period over the past several months when the two sides had reached an impasse, McGuire said, but negotiations now appear to be back on track.

Efforts to reach Inland representatives were unsuccessful. Bill Parks, a vice president of property management who has represented Inland during the talks, was on vacation and unavailable for comment. His voicemail referred questions to a co-worker, but that person did not return a message.

The economic downturn has apparently reduced the urgency for Inland to make a deal, McGuire said. In a June report to the Selectboard, McGuire noted that Inland’s “timetable to complete this work has been moved back.”

“They do not believe that their ability to lease out their retail spaces around the ‘green’ portion of the development will improve by adding parking,” he wrote. “They believe as the economy improves, this will change and they want to be in a position to move quickly.”

Store owners and shoppers have long complained about the lack of parking at Maple Tree Place.

Though spaces can usually be found during even the busiest times, they are often in outer lots that customers say are poorly lit and inconvenient. Some businesses around the green say there is rarely parking available near their shops.

Maple Tree Place has one large and several smaller vacancies. The Linens n’ Things outlet closed early this year after the chain declared bankruptcy, leaving a 35,000-square-foot opening. There are 18 other smaller vacant office and retail spaces ranging from 765 square feet to 8,987 square feet, according to Inland Western’s Web site. The retail center totals just under 500,000 square feet.

In addition to expanding parking, Inland is considering other changes to attract customers and retain retailers. A year ago, the company filed a specific plan permit with the town, which would allow changes to the development that do not comply with existing zoning.

In exchange for alterations such as brighter lighting or bigger signs, Inland would have to prove a significant public benefit. Those benefits, as defined by Williston’s bylaws, could include open space conservation, town infrastructure upgrades or job creation.

Matt Boulanger, senior planner with the town, said the specific plan application is on hold pending more information from Inland.

He said leasing space for parking could provide a stopgap solution while Inland seeks a specific plan permit and then makes improvements, a process expected to take years.

“Essentially, the ball is in their court at this point,” Boulanger said.