2018-07-05 / Front Page

Planning to park

Proposal could allow more control
By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer

Some time limited spaces on Main Street and surrounding areas will soon be adjusted to better suit the needs of downtown businesses. Two proposed ordinances aim to allow city council to make parking decisions directly in an effort to expedite parking changes downtown. (Abigail Worthing photo) Some time limited spaces on Main Street and surrounding areas will soon be adjusted to better suit the needs of downtown businesses. Two proposed ordinances aim to allow city council to make parking decisions directly in an effort to expedite parking changes downtown. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD – City councilors will soon consider ordinances to the charter that will allow an expedited process during a change in downtown parking.

For the last few months, the city has discussed at length a parking plan, with the council approving the planning phase for a roughly $10 million garage to be built on Lincoln Street at the former site of the Maine Energy Recovery Co. in March. At a special council meeting on June 26, City Manager James Bennett presented two drafts of ordinance changes to council. The first would allow for the city council to establish rules and regulations for parking, and would allow the council to amend “creation, elimination or relocation” of regulated spaces such as handicap spots, loading zones, taxi parking and timed parking. This would also allow the council to amend limited parking in municipal lots and allow for timed zones and fees.

In 2014, a referendum was proposed asking, “Shall the City of Biddeford install parking meters in the greater downtown Biddeford area?” to which the city responded with a vote of 6,761 no votes and 959 yes votes. There has been much debate as to whether the referendum refers to paid parking in general or specifically parking meters on the street. The new parking plan relies on the latter interpretation, and will convert several municipal lots into timed, paid spaces with the aid of parking kiosks.

The second ordinance will allow the council to make regulations to municipal lots. According to Bennett, the process of creating an ordinance is usually a two- to three month process, first requiring a recommendation to the policy committee, which then makes a commendation to council. The proposal would then go through two readings at council meetings. This ordinance change would allow some amendments to the parking plan to be resolved within one meeting.

“For some business, particularly when you’re talking about the time limits and handicap spaces, those are deal breakers,” Bennett said. “If you have two hour parking and need 15 minute parking, or you have 15 minute and need two hour, some business can’t handle the cash flow while we’re trying the parking situation.”

During the meeting, Economic Development Coordinator Brad Favreau presented a parking map of downtown, with color coordinated sections indicating the recommended time limits for each space. The proposed time limits would take effect between 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for on-street parking. Streets affected are Center Street, South Street, Adams Street, Emery Street, Lincoln Street, and Hill Street. Emery and Hill Streets are unrestricted and are primarily residential areas. During Favreau’s parking survey performed on the morning of June 26 prior to the meeting, there were 102 empty spots in the municipal lots. Favreau said that the amount of open spots in municipal lots could absorb those affected by the implementation of time-limited spaces.

When making the parking recommendation, the city will take into account requests from businesses to best suit the need of its clientele. During his presentation Favreau cited an email he received from Elements owner Mike Macomber requesting that a loading zone be implemented on Center Street behind his Main Street business, where parking is limited to two hours.

Councilor-at-Large Laura Seaver spoke against changing parking on Emery and Hill streets, adding that those spaces are where “people park to live.” Seaver said she was also concerned with the implementation of limited parking on Adams Street, specifically in correlation with the courthouse, which she estimated visits are usually at least four hours. When Favreau responded that there seemed to be an adequate amount of available parking during his survey, Seaver suggested he visit on Friday when there were 30 protective custody hearings scheduled on the docket.

When Ward 6 Councilor Norman Belanger questioned the need for time restricted parking on residential streets such as Emery and Hill, Bennett said it was precautionary, and as the mill area became more developed, there would be need for regulated parking beyond the immediate downtown area. According to Favreau, the Foss Street lot, for example, is consistently filled with Mill employees, as it is the closest to the Pepperell Center business, such as Portland Pie Company and Banded Brewing.

“People want to say this is only a mill parking issue, but the reality is it does spill into the downtown,” Bennett said.

Mayor Alan Casavant said during the meeting that he wanted consideration to be made to keep Lot 24 on Franklin Street, which abuts the Palace Diner, Louis Pizza and George’s Sandwich Shop, to be kept short term.

“That seems to me to be a lot that is engaged in customer parking in that area. So when we talk about paid parking in that lot, it seems to negate the purpose of getting enough spaces for people to do their retail business,” Casavant said. “Do we undercut ourselves by reducing the amount of parking spaces and making them paid parking specifically for long term. Does that hurt the businesses in that particular area?”

Bennett said that the proposed ordinance would allow flexibility to make allowances for that type of lot.

“If you would like that to be a turnover lot, by the nature of way we’re interpreting the ordinance, by the voters, if you said those 24 spaces were going to be short term turnover spots, there would be no charge for that,” Bennett said.

Belanger asked about the time frame for implemented paid parking and if there was time to study the effects of the changes in timed spaces prior. Bennett said that there is a plan in plan in place to finance the garage which relies on 15 months of paid parking revenues, and if the council should chose to wait, that plan will have to be reformatted.

“The model is very dynamic, we can change the assumptions, so if the council said, ‘we would like you to run that so that its twelve months worth of financing,’ run three months of free parking, changing the price structure, we can run those models,” Bennett said.

Concerning the implementation of paid parking, Seaver said she believes the intention of the referendum was that voters are opposed to paid parking and were content having parking costs factored into their taxes. Ward 1 Councilor Michael Swanton said he agreed with Seaver, and would not pass anything for paid lots without the assertion of the people.

Conversely, Belanger said he disagrees with the interpretation that the referendum referred to all paid parking, and that he believes it referred to only parking meters.

In a closing summary, Bennett said the parking plan would remove Emery and Hill Streets from consideration for time-limited parking for the time being, as the council consensus was that they were strictly residential. Bennett also said that there would be a list made available of the new times for parking spaces, and will reconsider the Adams Street area regarding time limits.

The amended ordinances will be on the agenda for the next scheduled council meeting.

Contact Staff Writer Abigail Worthing at news@inthecourier.com.

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