New Bedford City Council President Ian Abreu said today that he is exploring a plan to add more parking spots that would serve Noah’s Place, the handicapped-accessible playground on Pope’s Island, without affecting the number of spaces for the Pope’s Island Marina that sits next to it.

In his weekly appearance on WBSM, Abreu praised Mayor Jon Mitchell for asking the New Bedford Traffic Commission, the New Bedford Port Authority, and the Board of Park Commissioners to revisit the plan to institute paid parking at the site beginning this month. That plan was suspended on Tuesday for the upcoming season.

“I know we have a problem there, I know there are 190-plus slips, and there are 170-odd parking spots, but there are other things that we can do,” Abreu said.

Abreu said he’d been looking into the possibility of turning some of the green space around the playground, which he said is about an acre and a half, into additional parking.

“The mayor and I had a little repartee about it,” Abreu said. “He wants to preserve greenspace, that’s his opinion, my opinion is we institute a curb cut, we get DPI in there or if DPI can’t do it, we put out an RFP for it. We have that grass rototillered, we level it out. We don’t have to pave it or put asphalt, we can put ground seashells, we can put gravel, and we can fit about 40 to 50 parking spots right there.”

While that possibility had been suggested by some who opposed the pay-to-park program impacting playground users, the concern was that it would not be easy to give up waterfront greenspace for additional parking spots.

Massachusetts Chapter 91 laws “preserve pedestrian access along the water’s edge for fishing, fowling and navigation, and, in return for permission to develop non-water dependent projects on Commonwealth tidelands, provides facilities to enhance public use and enjoyment of the water.”

“I checked with legal, and there is no Chapter 91 issue with doing that,” Abreu said. “We’re not building a new structure, it’s just a matter of putting up a parking lot – that’s a song, isn’t it? ‘You pave paradise,’ right? Well, maybe that is paving paradise, (but) it’s giving some relief to the families and the children.”

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Abreu said he will continue to advocate for the creation of the extra parking spaces, and that there’s money available to do it.

“We could tap into ARPA dollars to do that. We have $8 million set aside in open space, there’s also money we could tap into to construct this parking lot through Community Preservation dollars…because that would qualify under Parks and Recreation, as an open space initiative,” Abreu said. “So there are some funding mechanisms that we can tap into that really won’t be on the backs of property tax payers here in New Bedford.”

He said he is happy that the program was suspended for this season while the City collects data on the number of vehicles using the parking lot, and how many are going to the playground and how many are using the marina.

“If you’re going to bring something forward, you’d better have some data or some paperwork to back that up. So I'm glad that by doing this, the mayor is able to get some data, and the city council is able to get some data, and we can look into this,” he said. “We can see what the problems are and we can identify them and we can move forward with the traffic commission, the park board, and the port authority in the future.”

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