2012-08-24 / Front Page

Parking issue taken to city hall and won

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — After months of discussion, multiple city council workshops, and nearly 100 emails from residents sent to City Manager Jim Gailey in the last month, local business owners in Knightville got their wish.

When construction finishes on Ocean Street this fall, at least a section of that road that runs through Knightville will turn to a one-way, and angled parking spaces in front of businesses like Flair for Hair, Verbena and Legion Square Market, known locally as Smaha’s, will remain intact.

The South Portland City Council met in a workshop on Monday, Aug. 20 to hear from members of the public and discuss the Knightville parking plans. The council had previously decided at a June 11 workshop to install parallel parking spots on both sides of the street, a plan originally proposed in February.

That parallel parking arrangement would have kept the overall number of spaces the same. However, it concerned business owners worried that their clientele would choose to shop elsewhere rather than parallel park in the neighborhood. After encouraging patrons to voice their displeasure with the plan through letters and emails to the city council, the special workshop was called and six councilors agreed to revert to the angled arrangement.

“I think in this process, what it showed is local government at its best,” said Alan Cardinal, who, along with his wife, Sylvia Most, assumed ownership of Legion Square Market at the beginning of August.

“It was an open process. I heard everybody ask questions all around, share their opinions, and then come to a conclusion. I really appreciate watching that in action, that’s what this is all about,” Cardinal said.

“There seems to be a spirit of compromise and understanding,” said Most, a former Scarborough town councilor. “The decisions are a balance of what the engineers and the theory say is the best, and what the public feels is the best.”

Approximately 30 people attended the workshop in city hall chambers. Most of the crowd consisted of either Knightville business owners or citizens choosing to voice their support for those businesses, such as resident Sue Henderson.

“Business owners have said this decision is going to hurt my well-being, my life business. Now, if the city ignores that, I think there’s a certain arrogance to that,” Henderson said.

James Herrera, a resident of D Street and an employee of the Mill Creek Barber Shop at 50 Market St., said the council should work to ensure the character of the neighborhood remains intact.

“I noticed how vibrant and alive the specific block we’re talking about has become,” Herrera said. “I am a brilliant parallel parker, but I support the angled parking. I think it will keep everything alive in Knightville.”

Councilor Tom Blake originally supported maintaining the status quo of two-way traffic in the area along with the angled parking, but Gailey and Sebago Technics engineer Dan Reilly explained that it is too late to make those sorts of changes based on the ongoing design plans.

The city of South Portland began work on a combined sewage overflow project in the area this spring. With just a few months until construction crews complete the project, Gailey said angled parking and two-way traffic could not be implemented at this point without major disruptions to planned crosswalk improvements, street bump outs and traffic signal arrangements.

Reilly said the area “simply doesn’t have enough pavement” to create adequate space for angled parking up to state and city standards, as well as two 24-foot driving lanes “without making the sidewalks narrower than they are today.”

Blake therefore supported the one-way design. He was joined in that opinion by Mayor Patti Smith and Councilors Tom Coward, Alan Livingston, Maxine Beecher and Gerard Jalbert. Coward said what he heard from the public convinced him the parallel parking arrangement was critical to the success of area businesses.

“If we do it wrong, the do-over is going to be over the corpses of the businesses that used to be down there,” Coward said.

A majority of the members of the public who gathered in the chambers supported angled parking, but a few residents of the lettered streets in the area spoke up to support parallel parking because they wanted to ensure they did not see a significant increase in traffic on their roads.

“I would say the council has listened to the businesses and responded to them,” said B Street resident and planning board member Caroline Hendry.

Hendry thinks the current traffic pattern works well for businesses and residents, but if a one-way street is installed, she is worried about “commercial creep” in her neighborhood.

“Mixed-use is what it is and it should be honored,” she said.

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis agreed, saying she is concerned both that the needs of residents were not being met in the mixed-use neighborhood, and that the council was revisiting an issue she believed had already been decided.

“I think it’s arrogant for us to ignore residents and say we only need to listen to businesses,” De Angelis said in response to Henderson’s comments alleging the council was arrogant to make a decision against business interests.

“Our local people who live here and agree to a mixed-use neighborhood deserve to have some acknowledgement and some respect,” De Angelis said.

A few members of the public shook their heads and grumbled while De Angelis spoke in the tensest moment of the evening.

The council will next have to decide if it wants the one-way section of Ocean Street to continue from the roundabout intersection with E street all the way to Waterman Drive, or if it wants to limit the one-way to the E Street to D Street block where many of the businesses involved in the debate are located.

An ordinance change will also be necessary to allow 45-degree angled parking in the area. Currently, the ordinance only allows for 60-degree angled parking. Gailey said theoretically, those decisions could be made in council meetings and workshops by the end of September.

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