2018-03-15 / Front Page

Legality of kiosks challenged

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD — While the Biddeford City Council has chosen the location for a $10.4 million parking garage, the implementation of parking kiosks has some residents questioning their legality.

With 5-3 vote, the council decided at the Tuesday, March 6 meeting that the former Maine Energy Recovery Co. site on Lincoln Street would house the proposed garage. Dissenting votes were cast by councilors Robert Quattrone of Ward 4, Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry and At-large Councilor Laura Seaver. According to city officials there will be a yearlong planning stage followed by another year to build the structure. While the meeting was only to vote on the location of the garage, residents filled council chambers to voice concerns about the prospect of paid parking downtown.

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 was 6,761 no and 959 yes. The city of Biddeford has now put through two request for proposals for parking kiosks and hand-held parking devices, with the intention of turning some of the free city-owned lots into paid parking.

Biddeford resident Jason Litalien, who attended the meeting, questioned the legality of putting in parking kiosks post-referendum and cautioned the council against moving into a plan that could result in legal ramifications. While the outcome of the referendum states that there can be no “parking meters in the downtown area,” Keith Jacques, legal counsel for the city of Biddeford, has assured the council that the referendum applies only to street parking.

Litalien ran as a write-in candidate against Mayor Alan Casavant in the November 2017 election but lost to the now four-term mayor, who ran unopposed on the ballot except for Litalien’s late bid.

Litalien, who has studied law, said he is preparing a complaint and request for permanent injunction that fully examines the referendum, official statements from the city and its attempt to distinguish parking meters from kiosks. Litalien said he will give the council an advance copy of the complaint, specifically Ward 6 Councilor Norman Belanger, an attorney, who Litalien hopes will, “see Mr. Jacques’ error and convince the city council that they must cease spending further funds planning for paid parking in greater downtown Biddeford.”

“I felt that Jacques dismissed my questions. I don’t know where they’re getting that ‘downtown’ only refers to street parking, specifically Main Street, but I don’t feel that that was the intention of the referendum,” Litalien said. “It all comes down to intent. The intent of the referendum was to bar paid parking downtown. Putting in kiosks instead of meters is just using a different word for the same thing.”

Litalien said he hopes the city does the right thing.

“I would rather deal with this outside of court, instead of the city spending more tax money defending their poorly reasoned decision(s),” he said.

Multiple constituents came forward at the March 6 meeting to speak out against the implementation of a parking garage if it were to be paid for with revenue of paid lots. Danielle Ouellette, whose family owns The Hamburger Stand on Elm Street, is in favor of a parking garage, as long as it comes with private funding. A paid lot, she said, would deter people from coming into her business.

“Our burger is $1.70. It’s hard to tell someone to come get a burger for your kid, but it’s going to cost you more just to come see us,” Ouellette said.

Ward 6 Councilor Norman Belanger said he appreciated opinions expressed at the meeting and told the audience he was trying to do what is best and make a decision “with his heart.”

Casavant said his vision for Biddeford includes building up a downtown that is connected to the RiverWalk. Casavant wants the people of Biddeford to feel pride in their city, adding, “Biddeford is alive and kicking and I want everyone to know it.”

Biddeford resident Matt Lauzon also spoke at the meeting and said while he and the mayor “Don’t see eye to eye on everything, we can agree on the vision for Biddeford.”

Joan Ladokakos, owner of George’s Sandwich Shop at 37 Franklin St., said if the city were to change the Washington Street lot to a garage or a paid lot they would be forced to close their doors.

Ricky Robitaille, owner of Louis’s Pizza, also on Franklin Street, echoed Ladokakos’s sentiment and added that he doesn’t think his employees and patrons will want to pay to park.

“I have a lot of goals (for this business),” said Robitaille, “and I don’t want to see those goals go away.”

A recurring concern from both residents and dissenting council members was that there is not enough transparency between the council and the people of Biddeford. Seaver was vocal in her belief that there shouldn’t be a vote without having a public forum.

When faced with concerns of the lack of public transparency, Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton said that meetings are public and the council “can’t make (constituents) come to these meetings.”

Seaver said the council isn’t as transparent as they think, adding there are aspects of the proposed parking plan that have changed since the last time it was discussed publicly.

At-large Councilor Marc Lessard said the garage is important to show businesses that Biddeford has faith in downtown. Lessard also attempted to reassure business owners, adding that he frequents a sandwich shop in the Washington Street area.

“Even if it were to change to a pay for parking, when I call in for my sandwich and go in and get it and get in my car and leave, it’s not more than two or three minutes. So the parking patrol would have to be right there when I park my car before I actually end up paying for it,” Lessard said.

After the council chose the former MERC site for the garage, there was a mass exodus of residents and business owners who spoke out against the parking plan. Lauzon told the council this concerned him.

“It’s worrisome to think that they aren’t going home, they’re going to talk about how they don’t feel like they’re being heard,” Lauzon said.

Lauzon and Litalien brought forward the same statistic in separate interviews: in the last general election in 2017, total voter turnout was 4,394 people, and in 2014, 6,761 people voted against the implementation of parking meters in the referendum.

“This is obviously something that people in Biddeford are passionate about,” Lauzon said.

Litalien is hopeful the council will reconsider plans for paid lots downtown before it comes to legal action, and said, “This is not about parking. This is about following the will of the people.”

Return to top