Norton’s new free municipal parking lot can accommodate about 30 cars.

The town of Norton opened a new municipal parking lot in early July as part of its plan to transform the Village Center, where businesses faced a “significant” lack of parking for patrons, according to Director of Planning and Economic Development Paul DiGiuseppe.

The new lot, located on West Main Street, offers free parking for approximately 30 vehicles.

Norton formally recognized the Village Center as a zoning district in October 2020, with the goal of “transforming the center into a vibrant and walkable destination,” according to the town’s website. At the time, the Village Center did not offer on-street parking, and visitors to downtown businesses were limited to on-site parking in businesses’ private lots.

Bog Iron Brewing, at 33 West Main St., is one of the establishments that experienced the impacts of the limited parking options. Since moving into its downtown location in 2011, owner Brian Shurtleff said Bog Iron “quickly hit a [financial] ceiling” due to the lack of nearby parking, combined with a mandated headcount driven by the building’s reliance on a septic rather than sewer system.

“Even though we’ve got quite a bit of square footage available to us, our headcount capacity has always been capped at only 49 people, which, for our business, is just not sustainable,” Shurtleff said.

Norton moved to address the septic issue in 2019, when it began work on a project to install a sewer system in the West Main Street area to allow businesses like Bog Iron to increase their official capacities. As the transition to sewer reached its final stages this year, however, the parking challenge remained.

With the completion of the sewer project, Shurtleff recognized an opportunity to solve the parking problem. Shurtleff approached DiGiuseppe about the downtown lot that the Water and Sewer Department had been using as a staging site for the sewer project, with the idea of repurposing it as a parking lot.

“My initial reaction [to the idea] was, ‘Why didn’t I think of that’?” DiGiuseppe said. “And, ‘Let me go to the town manager and see what we can do.’”

DiGiuseppe worked with Norton Town Manager Michael Yunits to secure approval for the parking lot from Water and Sewer Superintendent Frank Fournier, who provided an estimate of when the sewer project would conclude and preparations for the lot could begin. With Fournier’s timeline and the support of Norton’s Select Board, Highway Superintendent Keith Silver initiated the transformation of the land into a gravel lot.

The entire process, from proposal to execution, took “somewhere between six and nine months,” according to DiGiuseppe. He called the lot “a low-cost improvement.”

The revitalization of the Village Center is an ongoing process, and Norton is participating in the Baker-Polito administration’s Rapid Recovery Plan Program to bolster the Village Center’s economic recovery from COVID-19. Through the program, Massachusetts communities are matched with “Plan Facilitators” who recommend projects to revive struggling downtowns.

While the parking lot was not explicitly part of the Rapid Recovery Plan, it nevertheless contributes to the downtown revitalization effort. Word is still getting out to the community about the lot’s availability, but Shurtleff said he hopes the parking lot and sewer project together will make the Village Center more attractive to business owners.

“This area has always suffered horribly from infrastructure problem[s],” Shurtleff said. “So my hope for this area is you’re going to start seeing other business owners [recognize] this area as dramatically more viable.”

For communities looking to initiate similar projects, DiGiuseppe stressed the importance of connecting with local stakeholders.

“It’s so critical to just talk with your businesses and let them tell you what their needs are,” DiGiuseppe said.

Written by Emanne Khan, Communications Intern