Maple Tree Place seeks more parking spots12/11/08

Town may lease municipal property

Dec. 11, 2008

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Maple Tree Place needs more parking. The town of Williston might be able to help and earn extra cash in the process.


    File photo
Cars pack the parking lot in front of Best Buy at Maple Tree Place on Nov. 28, also known as Black Friday. Inland U.S. Property Management LLC has asked the town to lease land to Maple Tree Place so the shopping center can expand parking.

Representatives for Illinois-based Inland U.S. Property Management LLC recently asked the town to lease land it owns behind the Men’s Wearhouse outlet. The Planning Commission has recommended the town negotiate a deal.

The extra lot would alleviate concerns among shoppers and businesses about a chronic parking shortage around the development’s green area, a grassy square surrounded by shops and restaurants.

“It’s a component we’re missing now,” said Bill Parks, vice president of property management for Inland. “What we have is prospective tenants who say there is no parking nearby.”

This summer, Inland representatives told the town they wanted to make numerous changes at Maple Tree Place, including improved lighting, signage and parking. The company filed for a permit under the town’s new Specific Plan bylaw, which exempts projects from zoning rules if they provide a substantial public benefit.

But that process could be quite lengthy. Town Planner Ken Belliveau said it could last from “two months to forever.”

Leasing the municipal land could provide an interim solution, said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

“They were looking for some immediate relief,” he said. “They actually have enough parking, but not in the right places.”

Indeed, shoppers and diners can usually find parking at Maple Tree Place, but not on the green or in front of more popular stores like Christmas Tree Shops and Best Buy during busy periods. Parks said tenants with shops and eateries surrounding the green have complained, and the tight parking makes it harder to fill vacant retail and office space.

The development is struggling with vacancies. Including Linens ‘n Things, which is going out of business, Maple Tree Place has 89,510 square feet of vacant space, according to the development’s Web site. That is 18.5 percent of the total 484,011 square feet of office and retail space.

There was talk about building a parking garage when the original owner of Maple Tree Place, Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi, built the development. But the company balked at the idea, saying it was too expensive, and town officials did not press the issue.

Was that a mistake Inland, which bought the development for $102.3 million three years ago, is now paying for?

Parks said he could not comment on something that happened prior to his company’s purchase of Maple Tree Place.

Belliveau said the lack of a parking garage has prevented Maple Tree Place from evolving into the pedestrian friendly development once envisioned by town officials and citizens.

“If you’re serious about not ending up with a typical suburban shopping mall, underground structured parking is where it’s at,” he said.

Such a facility, he said, would have freed up space and helped create a setting that encourages people to linger.

The grassy parcel owned by the town and coveted for parking by Maple Tree Place is located between Men’s Wearhouse and Ben & Jerry’s. Neither McGuire nor Belliveau knew the precise size of the parcel or how many parking spaces it could accommodate.

McGuire said he will likely seek approval from the Selectboard on Monday to negotiate a lease for the parcel. Such an arrangement would not be unique: the town currently leases parking space to Thomas Hirchak Co., an auction house off James Brown Drive.

Aside from contributing to the town coffers, McGuire said leasing the land could provide an indirect public benefit.

“Of course, it’s in the town’s interest to see the development succeed because it’s a major taxpayer,” he said.