2018-08-09 / Front Page

Love thy neighborhood

Certain areas of Biddeford meet, discuss
By Abigail Worthing Staff Writer


During the first neighborhood meeting at Rumery Boat Yard, Community Development Director Linda Waters outlines the division of neighborhoods in Biddeford’s downtown area. From left, Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Director Sarah Breul, Waters, Seeds of Hope Executive Director the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry, and Engine Executive Director Tammy Ackerman. (Abigail Worthing photo) During the first neighborhood meeting at Rumery Boat Yard, Community Development Director Linda Waters outlines the division of neighborhoods in Biddeford’s downtown area. From left, Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Director Sarah Breul, Waters, Seeds of Hope Executive Director the Rev. Shirley Bowen, Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry, and Engine Executive Director Tammy Ackerman. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD – “Tell us what you like about your neighborhood.”

That was the question that opened three neighborhood meetings hosted by the city as part of the My Neighborhood Network initiative to promote downtown Biddeford’s revitalization, during which residents discussed the pros and cons of the areas and how they could be improved upon.

Community Development Director Linda Waters, Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Director Sarah Breul and Seeds of Hope Executive Director the Rev. Shirley Bowen facilitated three meetings last week; on July 31 a meeting was held at 4 p.m. at Rumery’s Boatyard for those who live near Cleaves Street, followed by an 11 a.m. South Street neighborhood Meeting atSeedsofHope,anda1p.m.meetingAug. 6 in Bacon Street neighborhood meeting at the HUB on Sullivan Street.


The Mission Hill Community Garden was part of the push to reinvigorate the Bacon Street community. The Sullivan Street garden is a project where residents can plant and tend their own garden, and to Community Development Director Linda Waters, it is a testament to the growth and beauty of the neighborhood. (Abigail Worthing photo) The Mission Hill Community Garden was part of the push to reinvigorate the Bacon Street community. The Sullivan Street garden is a project where residents can plant and tend their own garden, and to Community Development Director Linda Waters, it is a testament to the growth and beauty of the neighborhood. (Abigail Worthing photo) Two meetings will be scheduled for the remaining four neighborhoods: the Alfred and Birch streets area will have its meeting with the Granite and Oak streets, and Summer Street residents will meet with those from the Main Street area.


The meeting of the South Street neighborhood was the most well attended and spirited of the three neighborhood meetings, with neighbors eager to provide feedback into the state of the area. From left, Community Development Director Linda Waters, Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Director Sarah Breul, and Seeds of Hope Executive Director Rev. Shirley Bowen take notes of suggestions from neighbors. (Abigail Worthing photo) The meeting of the South Street neighborhood was the most well attended and spirited of the three neighborhood meetings, with neighbors eager to provide feedback into the state of the area. From left, Community Development Director Linda Waters, Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition Director Sarah Breul, and Seeds of Hope Executive Director Rev. Shirley Bowen take notes of suggestions from neighbors. (Abigail Worthing photo) The meetings varied in attendance, with the Cleaves Street and Bacon Street the meetings more sparsly attended than the South Street gathering.

Every meeting started with Waters explaining the initiative and then asking neighbors about their respective history in the area. For some, the move to the neighborhood was recent, within the last few years, while others have spent more than 60 years in the same community. Residents spoke of their favorite aspects of the community, be it the steeple of the former St. Andre Church, McArthur Library and Clifford Park or of family ties to the neighborhood, and seeing friends on the street.

“Our goal is to promote social connection. When you have pride in your neighborhood, you maintain your neighborhood,” said Waters at the opening of the first meeting.

The meeting at Rumery’s Boat Yard was intimate. Those who attended spoke freely about their neighborhood, both about negative and positive aspects. The area is currently without an official neighborhood title so part of the discussion was suggesting ideas, such as “The Shipyard” or “Riverfront.”

When asked what the city could improve on in the neighborhood, Sean Tarpy, owner of the boatyard, said he would like to see the police patrol the Saco River the way he sees Saco Police patrol the other side of the waterway. He also said that as the boatyard faces the river, he can see when people are in distress and will sometimes have to pull someone out of the water.

“When someone puts their kayak into the water, you don’t know how much experience they have. There should be more patrol around here to help them,” Tarpy said.

Neighbors of the boat yard appreciated that people were friendly and there wasn’t any disorderly conduct on the streets. Tarpy talked about grape vines in front of buildings and how when they bear fruit, neighbors will take handfuls of grapes and leaves.

The third meeting at the HUB on Bacon Street was attended by three young boys, ages 6, 7 and 11, so most suggestions during that meeting were playground focused. However, they all said they felt comfortable in their neighborhood. The Bacon Street Festival was held the day prior, on Aug. 5, and the boys were excited to talk about activities during that event.

“That’s why we love the festival,” Breul said. “Those boys road around on their bikes all day and were so excited that this was all happening in their neighborhood. It makes them feel special, and then they take pride in where they live.”

The meeting at Seeds of Hope provided the most input on what could be improved on in the neighborhood. It was attended by 12 residents who were all eager to share their thoughts, so much so that a hand-raising policy had to be implemented. As Bowen described it, the South Street Neighborhood is “one of the more high density, low income” parts of town, so the input was different than the boatyard meeting. At the boatyard meeting there was discussion of placing speed bumps on the road and the dangers of certain turns within the neighborhood, whereas the South Street meeting discussed dangers as a pedestrian, with some describing the need for more lighted crosswalks and the lack of benches on Main Street. Downtown business owners have requested benches be taken away from their establishments to avoid the homeless and others who occupy the benches for a good part of the days.

The South Street meeting painted a picture of life in the neighborhood, speaking of concerns over drug use, trash in the streets, as well as bed bugs, cockroaches and potential lead poisoning in buildings. Some neighbors talked about absentee landlords and problems within apartments going unfixed, while others talked of the inability to find an apartment at all.

“One of our neighbors went to look into his housing assistance, only to find that a clerical error had led to his application being lost. When he reapplied, he was told the wait to get into affordable housing was between six and 10 years,” Bowen said. “People can’t wait that long.”

The need for affordable housing was a popular topic in both the South Street and Rumery’s Boat Yard meetings.

“I just wish there was a way the city could regulate what landlords are charging. People can’t afford to stay in their homes, and there’s no recourse,” said Engine Executive Director Tammy Ackerman at the Rumery’s Boat Yard meeting.

“I’m not an economist, so I don’t know how we could even go about it, but I’ve been saying for a while that it would be great if the city could incentivize developers to build more affordable housing,” Bowen said.

“If you put in more affordable housing, you’ll see it in your taxes,” said Ward 2 Councilor John McCurry, who lives in the Cleaves Street neighborhood and was present at the meeting. “It’s just not that easy.”

Meeting participants talked about the homeless population, seeing people sleeping on the steps of city hall and the courthouse, and asked why the police force wasn’t doing anything to help them.

“Police officers call me all the time to ask me if I can help these people,” Bowen said. “It’s not that they don’t care, it’s that there isn’t a place for them to go.”

When all neighborhood meetings are completed, Waters will consider trends and schedule secondary meetings for each neighborhood where residents can discuss the possible improvements. Waters repeatedly cited the Bacon Street neighborhood as a success story, and hopes other neighborhoods will follow suit. With the development of a park and playground, there are places for children to go now that are safe, and the HUB provides daily meals for children during the week.

“The community garden is such a great addition to the neighborhood, it would be great if we could get even more around town,” Ackerman said, an idea that was identified as one that would be further explored prior to the next meeting.

When asked about her thoughts on the attendance of the meetings thus far, Waters was optimistic about the future of the project.

“When things are bad, people rally. I think we’re seeing lower turn outs because things are pretty good right now,” Waters said. “But now we’ve planted the seed, so the next meetings people will have thought more about it and will have more to say. A few years ago, when things were bad, we would have had a bunch of people here, but people are content right now, and that’s OK too.”

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

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