2019-01-10 / Front Page

City rejects unlimited handicap parking

By Abigail Worthing
Staff Writer


This handicap space on Alfred Street has snow piled along the sidewalk, which can make it difficult for those in need of space to maneuver in and out of the car and onto the sidewalk. (Abigail Worthing photo) This handicap space on Alfred Street has snow piled along the sidewalk, which can make it difficult for those in need of space to maneuver in and out of the car and onto the sidewalk. (Abigail Worthing photo) BIDDEFORD – The city council approved doubling time limits for those with handicap placards to park downtown rather than abolishing time limitations completely for handicap parking.

During a 15-minute council meeting on Jan. 4, the proposal would have allowed those with handicap placards on their automobiles to park in any time restricted, onstreet spot downtown for an unlimited amount of time without penalty. While the motion passed during a Dec. 10 Policy Committee meeting and a first reading on Dec. 18, an amendment proposed by Ward 7 Councilor Michael Ready during the second reading on Jan. 4 reverted the language to only doubling the time limits on spaces. For example, a handicap placard-bearing car could occupy a two-hour space for four hours without penalty in any time-limited, on-street parking space.

“It’s the least we can do,” said Ward 5 Councilor Amy Clearwater. “But I think we could have gone further.”

The amendment passed 4-3, with Clearwater, Ward 7 Councilor Norman Belanger and Councilor-at-Large Laura Seaver in opposition.

Ready had voiced concerns on Dec. 18 that the original proposal would move the city toward providing unlimited parking for all residents.

Council President John McCurry of Ward 2 said during the Dec. 18 meeting that he would not support the change on the grounds that it would be too easy to abuse. A placard holder himself, McCurry said he is sometimes guilty of forgetting to take the placard off his visor. He continued with a hypothetical example that it would allow others who could use his car, such as his wife or grandson, to park downtown with the placard for an unlimited amount of time.

Belanger said he didn’t believe it was necessary to block the change to unlimited time restrictions to avoid people violating the policy, and instead encouraged enforcement of it should people abuse it. Clearwater spoke in favor of the ordinance, saying that it wasn’t a change as much as putting a current policy into effect.

“The chief of police has gone on record that nobody with a handicap placard is ticketed for time restrictions in Biddeford now,” Clearwater said. “So we’re codifying what is already true.”

The Jan. 4 meeting was neither recorded nor broadcast due to technical difficulties unable to be resolved prior to the start of the meeting.

The vote was a blow for Jules Dennison, a longtime Alfred Street resident. Dennison said she was unaware that there would be a second reading of the ordinance and subsequently was not present to speak on behalf of the ordinance, as she’s done in the past. Her frustrations are compounded by the technical difficulties that leave her without a video of the meeting to watch.

“Every council action gets two readings,” wrote Seaver in a Jan. 7 email to Dennison. “There is always a chance that the vote will change. The meeting was posted as usual and it was on the agenda.”

There is one handicap spot in the Alfred Street area, directly in front of Biscuits and Company, which is limited at two hours. Dennison petitioned the Biddeford Downtown Committee on Nov. 15 for a designated handicap spot to be used solely for her in front of her residence, saying she didn’t want to take up the spot in front of a business. The city, however, said such a request would have to go to through the Policy Committee, which met Monday, Dec. 10.

When the Policy Committee approved an amendment that would abolish time restrictions for those with handicapped placards, followed by the approval of the first reading, Dennison claimed victory following the months-long struggle. Dennison has encouraged an ADA friendly solution since the enactment of the city’s new parking plan. Lifted time restrictions would alleviate the anxiety over the placement of her car on days when her health prevents her from leaving the house. Dennison has a condition that requires at-home medical treatments that prohibit her from leaving for days at a time. As her condition leaves her open to frequent trips to the emergency room, she fears that her car will be towed when she returns if left in a street parking space.

Dennison researched handicap policies for other states, noting that drivers with handicap placards in Massachusetts, California, Maryland, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia are exempt from parking restrictions.

As Dennison was unaware of the second reading, she was also unaware that her perceived victory was no more until she received an email from Seaver. In the email, Seaver apologized to Dennison.

“I am sorry it has turned out this way,” Seaver wrote.

When Dennison asked Seaver what could be done, Seaver said Dennison would probably have to pay for a spot in a nearby lot. While the Washington and Foss Street Lots are located nearby, both are too far, especially in the snow.

“The Foss Street Lot is across two streets and uphill. How am I supposed to get there if I need to go to urgent care?” Dennison said.

Since receiving the news, Dennison has reached out to the Biddeford Police Department hoping for assistance in this case, citing a city ordinance that pertains to disability parking: “In addition to those areas listed below, and designated as disability parking, the chief of police is authorized to temporarily designate an area as reserved for ‘disability parking’ in order to meet special needs and circumstances.”

“I just want to stay in my home. I want to be part of a community that supports each other,” Dennison said. “And right now, I’m not proud of where I live.”

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