2012-07-06 / Front Page

Merchants still not happy with parking plan

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

Some business owners in South Portland remain upset with the city council’s decision to install parallel parking spots that will replace the neighborhood’s angled spots.

A few of those local business owners voiced their displeasure with the policy at the council meeting Monday, July 2 at city hall.

“The general business community is very upset about this decision, and this is on the heels of decisions I think the gen- eral business community probably feels are anti-business, including the Willard Square decision and what appears to be a continuing debacle with the farmers market,” said John Platt, owner of Nonesuch Books at 50 Market St.

Platt referred to the council’s decisions to enact zoning ordinance changes in the Willard Square area last fall and to move the city’s farmers market from Thomas Knight Park to Hinckley Drive.

“These businesses can’t take a year of a trial period with the parallel parking. People are creatures of habit. They’re simply going to go elsewhere where it’s easier to do their shopping,” said Michael Drinen, owner of two buildings in the area at 87 and 97 Ocean St.

Drinen said he thought the council made the decision to install parallel parking without enough data at its disposal. He thinks an earlier plan to install a one-way street north on Ocean Street to preserve the angled parking would be a good starting point for the council.

“I don’t understand the willingness of the city to risk the futures of businesses with this plan,” Drinen said.

The parking plan has gone through a num- ber of changes since it was proposed earlier this year. At a February council workshop, city staff proposed a plan to install parallel parking on Ocean Street to address maintenance and safety concerns. The plan keeps the same number of overall parking spaces in the city, but cuts down the number of spaces in a two-block radius of Ocean Street between E Street and C Street. Businesses located in that area include Smaha’s Legion Square Market, Verbena restaurant and cafe, and Drinan’s property management offices.

The council considered an alternative plan to keep angled parking and change part of Ocean Street to a one-way at a workshop in March. Finally, in June, the council decided in a workshop to stay with the original proposal to put in parallel parking spaces on Ocean Street.

The city took no official action after the June workshop.

The issue of the Knightville plan was not on the council’s agenda at Monday’s meeting, but a few councilors did address issues their constituents brought up.

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis rejected Platt’s statement that the city council was “anti-business.” She said she supports the decision the council made on the parking plan as the best way in the “mixed-use” residential and business neighborhood.

“We’ve done a lot of things to support business and we will continue to support business, but I felt that residents had some real concerns that we needed to address,” De Angelis said.

The changes in parking are part of a major $3.6 million construction project in the Knightville area. Shaw Brothers of Gorham began work in April on the sewer separation and public works improvement project. The work is set to finish in November. De Angelis said that when the dust settles, businesses and residents will be pleased with the changes.

“I think people are going to be surprised. I think it’s going to go smoothly. I think everybody is going to be pleasantly surprised with how well it goes and how well it works,” De Angelis said in an interview after the meeting.

Councilor Tom Blake did not specifically mention the parking plan, but he made a more general point in the round robin session about the council’s decision-making process. He said that each particular councilor may not agree with their counterparts on every decision, but as a council, “we’re a team,” and it must stick with each decision the majority makes.

“If we lose, we just have to move forward to the next project, and as a community, we have to do the same thing. Put your best foot forward, your best argument forward, and fortunately for America, the majority rules,” Blake said.

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