Panel Proposes Parking, Amenities, At Eldredge Garage Land

By: Alan Pollock

The former Eldredge Garage filling station. FILE PHOTO

CHATHAM An ad hoc committee has released its vision for the future use of the Eldredge Garage land, and it includes a parking lot, a small wildflower meadow overlooking Mill Pond, public restrooms and a transportation center.

Capping a year’s work and 17 meetings, the Eldredge Garage property planning committee presented its recommendations to the board of selectmen Monday. The detailed report will now go to town staff, who will begin estimating the cost of implementation.

The committee favored keeping the property in its historical use, namely for paid parking and possibly a shuttle service to Lighthouse Beach and other destinations. The committee is recommending that the old service station building be restored or replicated for use as public restrooms, and that undisturbed land at the rear of the property be maintained as open space.

The parking area would be limited to that part of the property previously used for parking vehicles, and should be outfitted with proper drainage and a permeable paving material with parking stripes, Schiff said. The lot should be available for year-round parking that is free in the off-season, but requires a fee for nonresidents during the summer. Residents would be able to park there without charge during the summer, provided they have a town-issued beach, transfer station or recycling sticker.

Schiff said the committee examined the possibility of having meters or kiosks, but was impressed by the work done by Chatham Valet during this summer’s trial period.

“It just seemed to make sense,” he said. The lot will have around 66 lined spaces for self-parking, but a valet service is able to fit as many as 117 vehicles at a time, boosting the town’s revenue. This summer’s valet operation was watched closely by neighbors, who have been vocal at the planning committee’s meetings, and their reports were positive. Trees and shrubs would be planted in and around the parking area to soften its appearance, Schiff added.

“We wanted to have parking, but not have it look like a parking lot,” he said.

The committee also favored restoring the old service station to house public restrooms, an informational map and a cell phone charging station. Schiff said it will take an engineer to determine whether the building can be restored for that purpose, “but that’s what we’re recommending be done.”

Resident David Oppenheim, who helped broker the town’s purchase of the property from the Eldredge family, said he likes the committee’s plan for the property. “I think it’s great that the gas station is going to stay there,” he said, but public buildings will need to meet all building codes and requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Doing so will be a challenge since the gas station was poorly built years ago and does not have proper footings. “I think replicating it will give you a better building for a lot less money,” Oppenheim said.

Historical commission Chairman Frank Messina said ht would be better to save the original building if possible, “and funding is available for restoration.” Messina recommended that town officials act quickly to get estimates for lifting and gutting the building, so they can apply for Community Preservation Act funding in the next cycle of grants.

Schiff said his committee recognized the beach shuttle formerly provided by the Eldredges as a useful service, and acknowledged that Chatham Valet provided a similar service last summer.

“We’re saying, let’s continue that,” he said. The committee envisions a private shuttle providing service to Lighthouse Beach, the Fish Pier or other destinations. The property would also help meet other transportation needs, and would include a bicycle rack, a self-serve bike repair station and a station for charging an electric vehicle.

Finally, the committee recommended retaining the rear portion of the land as open space. Visitors would walk down a short pathway to enjoy a view of the salt marsh. The area would not have benches or other improvements, and would be planted with native species that require little maintenance. The committee also favored naming the open space after the Eldredge family.

Selectmen voted unanimously to accept the committee’s plan and to forward it to staff for further study; they also accepted the committee’s recommendation to continue the interim use of paid valet parking for another summer, pending any improvements at the site. With thanks for having completed their task, selectmen also voted to disband the planning committee.