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Canobie Lake Park parking proposal approved in Salem

SALEM - As officials at Canobie Lake Park prepare for the coming summer season, they are hoping to address the growing problems of traffic and congestion along South Policy Street.

During Tuesday night's Planning Board meeting, project engineer George Fredette shared details of a proposal that would add 350 additional parking spaces to the century-old amusement park that's a warm-weather destination for countless New England families.

Following a lengthy discussion, the board gave the plan its unanimous blessings.

Plans for the expanded parking lot, which park officials are hoping to build this spring, have been in the works for well over a year. Once completed, the park would boast well over 2,000 parking spaces.

Fredette said park officials have been in contact with all direct abutters to address any possible concerns.

Town Planning Director Ross Moldoff said the park's previous parking expansion was approved in 2007.

"I think they've done a beautiful job in terms of the landscaping along N. Policy Street to date, and I look forward to seeing that continued," he said.

Moldoff said he received letters from three abutters, who'd all informed him they had no objections to the project. The park has been using offsite parking for several years but there are definitely drawbacks.

Local police meet regularly with park officials to address traffic and safety concerns, according to Deputy Chief Shawn Patten.

"This plan that's in place does work," Patten said. "But there are several times a year when we do see issues. What we see is pedestrians walking on side roads where it's dark and there are no sidewalks."

"What this will do is keep more cars in the park, without us having to worry about pedestrian traffic as well as burglaries (in cars parked offsite)," Patten added, noting that plans to raze two vacant homes on the property would further reduce vandalism concerns.

"It's preferable for us to keep these cars in the parking lot and not have to worry about pedestrian traffic," he said.

Project engineers have described the plans as a traffic improvement in itself. Fredette said the demand for onsite parking has grown, which he said is most likely due to the fact that most families have multiple vehicles nowadays, as well as the fact that the park is hiring more employees.

"There are multiple shifts during the days. This is all increasing the parking demand," he said. "Group outings are no longer huddled in a bus. People often arrive in their own cars and even when they carpool there are more vehicles as opposed to one or two buses coming up the road."

The new parking lot in question would be located on the park's southeastern corner, with further expansions to take place on existing lots.

Stone walls and green fencing would be built to buffer the parking lot from neighbors' view, Fredette said, noting that new lighting units would keep that area safe for pedestrians without disturbing the neighbors.

Traffic engineer Jeffrey Dirk said the overall goal "is to reduce the amount of traffic that travels from Pelham Road up through the main park entrance."

Dirk said the addition of 350 spaces would result in an estimated 150 extra vehicles passing through during peak traffic hours, with around 80 percent of incoming park traffic coming from the south.

A direct result of the new spaces, he said, would be reduced hours of police detail needed. N. Policy Street resident Gene Bryant, who noted he's often had trouble exiting and entering his home during peak summer hours, said he felt that maybe a better solution would be "to figure out how to get people to use more buses."

"They've been here 111 years, and they run a clean shop," Bryant said. "Everybody loves Canobie Lake Park. The only complaint I have is they don't take traffic seriously. So I recommend you stop and take a breath and start asking some serious questions."

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