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Park, or parking?

Graduate student project examines options for Harmony Lot

BRATTLEBORO—A key part of the Brooks House renovation project is the Harmony Lot, and what it might become after the historic 1871 structure reopens next year.

Kim Smith of Westminster, a graduate student at the Conway School ( in Massachusetts, spent last fall working on what a re-imagined Harmony Lot would look like.

She outlined her findings at a presentation at the Brattleboro Food Co-op Community Room on Monday.

She said the goal of her work was to create a safe, functional, and attractive space.

Smith said Brattleboro has not made any capital improvements in the Harmony Lot since 1986. The lot has occasional drainage problems; the asphalt is patched and unsightly; and the bricks in the median areas are loose, missing, or uneven.

“The town has been clear that they don’t have a budget for capital improvements for the lot,” she said.

Her 25-page project report ( presents several options for the town to consider.

“There’s a lot of potential here, but this is mainly to kick-start a conversation,” she said.

The most radical change, turning the lot into a park, would eliminate its 94 parking spaces, but create a pedestrian-friendly community center with trees, vegetation, and green space.

A less drastic version would convert the east side of the lot into pedestrian space and leave the west side of the lot for parking.

That would reduce the number of spaces to 55.

The least invasive plan would maintain the same basic layout of today’s Harmony Lot, only with a “micro-plaza” set up in the area closest to the proposed Brooks House addition.

Only six parking spots in the northeast corner would be lost.

Smith found there are about 900 metered public parking spaces in Brattleboro. Except for Gallery Walk and other special events, rarely are all of these spaces full.

However, there is a powerful economic argument for keeping Harmony Lot more or less as is.

The 94 spaces in the Harmony Lot represent 10 percent of available downtown parking spaces. According to the town, in fiscal year 2012, Harmony Lot’s metered spaces generated $96,513 in revenue, or about one-quarter of what the town took in that year from all the lots and spaces it managed.

Given its status as the preferred short-term parking area for downtown visitors, any reduction in the number of parking spaces would directly affect the town’s parking fund, which is designed to be self-sustaining.

The town has not committed to any one plan, but the lot will change somewhat once the Brooks House project is complete. Some spaces that had been previously leased to the town have been reclaimed for short-term parking for tenants.

Smith did her work as the first Brattleboro/Windham County fellow in the Conway School’s Sustainable Communities Initiative. The initiative puts a full-time graduate student into the community to do design and engineering projects.

The school is looking for a 2013-14 Brattleboro/Windham County fellow. Those interested should contact Conway School Director/President Paul Cawood Hellmund at

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Originally published in The Commons issue #199 (Wednesday, April 17, 2013).

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