2018-03-08 / News

Officials claim misunderstanding with parking kiosks

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – An unpopular topic is back on the minds of Biddeford residents: paid parking in downtown.

On Feb. 22 the city of Biddeford put out two request for proposals, one for parking kiosks and the other for hand held parking ticket devices. According to the request for proposal, the kiosks will be used on surface lots and in the new proposed parking garage.

The plan, according to the Downtown Task Force Subcommittee, will use revenue from parking kiosks to pay for the garage, which is not expected to impact taxpayers. According to City Manager James Bennett, the kiosks will likely be “pay-and-display,” where the driver will put money or credit card into the machine, select the amount of time desired, and will receive a “ticket” to put in their front windshield. The proposed hand held parking devices will provide a more effective way to monitor not only the new lots, but also the existing time-limitations of street parking.

“As of right now, (parking enforcement) have to do everything manually. These will take down plate information, monitor the length of time they have been there, and if there is a violation, the information will go straight to the offices, and print out the ticket right from the machine,” Bennet said.

Although the request for proposal states that parking kiosks are requsted to meet needs in “both on-street and off-street parking environments,” Bennett said that the city does not plan on “breaking the law” and will honor the city’s referendum to keep street parking free. Officials, did, however, say parking limits will be imposed for on-street parking spots.

In 2014, a binding referendum was passed that asked voters “Shall the City of Biddeford install parking meters in the greater downtown Biddeford area?” The vote tally was 6,761 no votes and 959 yes.

The proposed parking garage, which officials say they can’t put a price tag on until its location is decided, is intended to serve all of downtown Biddeford, and will include parking for daily, overnight and more permanent spots. Paid surface lots are being considered on Foss and Federal streets. According to a January 2017 study by the Downtown Task Force Subcommitee, the lot on Lincoln Street, the former Maine Energy Recovery site, is the best candidate for the garage, as it is projected that more than 80 of the spots would be “pre-leased” to the residents of the Lofts at Saco Falls, providing an immediate revenue stream for the garage.

Bennet said the parking kiosks and garage would be paid for primarily from the tax increment financing, or TIF fund, and the revenue would go toward both the garage and street cleaning maintenance.

This, he believes, will help with parking turnover downtown so that it will be easier to find parking and help bring in more business.

The city council will decide on a location for the proposed garage during a meeting Tuesday, March 6, after the Courier deadline.

With the 2014 referendum still fresh in the mind of residents, the new parking kiosks have a number of Biddeford small business owners up in arms.

Vincent Keely, owner of The WonderBar on Washington Street, was vocal in the 2014 push against meters, and is once again speaking out.

“People will not pay for parking, and they will say it to your face. Why should they pay for parking when they can go to the Biddeford Crossing or to the mall and park for free?” Keely said.

Keely also wants the council to remember that the city took out parking meters in the late 1960s to encourage people to come back into the downtown, and believes that implementing paid parking now will chase people back out. He also thinks the responsibility of paying for the garage shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of Biddeford residents.

“The owners of the mill bought it for pennies. If they want a garage, they have the deep pockets. They should pay for it,” Keely said.

Matt Swaford, owner of High Rollers Glass and Gifts on Alfred Street, is concerned about what paid parking will do to small businesses like his. Swaford has been in business in Biddeford for more than five years, and while he is in favor of tightening street parking, he worries that implementing a fee for parking will discourage the casualness of being able to stop in at smaller stores, many of which are specialty stores that most patrons just pop into.

Joan Ladakakos, whom, with her husband, own George’s Sandwich Shop on Franklin Street, also voiced concern. George’s has been in their family since 1948 and Ladakakos feels there is no problem finding parking downtown. Confronted with the question of how this could affect her business, she responded, “Who will pay $2 an hour to pop in and buy a $4.80 sandwich?”

The Biddeford and Saco Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a more optimistic take on the matter, having publicly stated its support for a parking structure well over a year ago. In the March 2018 edition of the Chamber Voice Newsletter, “Planning for the Future,” chamber Director Craig Pendelton asks readers to “Imagine, if you can, what the mill district will look like five, 10 and 15 years from now. Imagine, if you can, a bustling mill district with jobs, housing, retail and services all connected by an intramodal public transportation center.”

City officials have discussed parking during council meetings regularly, and acknowledge that it is a complex one, with Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant saying during a city council workshop on Feb. 20, “It’s like fighting a two front war.” When asked to elaborate on that statement, he explained that there are “multiple levels of opposition” and is concerned that there are a lot of assumptions being made.

To both Bennett and Casavant, it’s important to note that there is still a lot of upkeep that goes into so-called free parking.

“There’s no such thing as free parking,” he said. “The money for street cleaning and snow removal has to come from somewhere. Parking may be ‘free,’ but the money is coming from the taxpayers pockets, whether you live downtown or not.”

The board of Heart of Biddeford, a quasi-municipal downtown revitalization organization, supports finding a solution to what the city has deemed a parking problem. Delilah Poupore, director of Heart of Biddeford, acknowledges that the amount of information circulating can be confusing.

“It can be hard to keep up to date with all the proposals,” said Poupore, “especially when the council proposes something, which they then discuss and improve upon.”

“There is no set plan,” Bennett said. “We still have to read proposals.”

“We’ll have to wait and see. There are changes every time we discuss it,” Casavant added.

When questioned about the concerns of Biddeford businesses, Casavant responded, “We obviously don’t want to hurt business in Biddeford. Quite the opposite.”

Casavant said the city council plans to discuss parking at length in council meetings and workshops, and will hear statements and concerns from business owners and residents.

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