2016-05-20 / Community

Knightville parking petition expected

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — What some see as a zombified corpse that will not die, parking in South Portland’s historic Knightville District has once again reared its head.

In March, the city council capped more than two hours of sometimes-heated debate with a 4-2 vote to remove the one-way sign from the block of Ocean Street between Legion Square and D Street, and to convert 15 angled spaces on the side of the street facing Legion Square Market to nine parallel spots. That will leave enough space for duel travel lanes, restoring two-way flow after more than three years.

That was the original plan when Ocean Street was rebuilt following a $3.6 million sewer system upgrade. However, business owners complained they had not been consulted on the parking change, and objected to the loss of angled parking at the cluster of shops near Legion Square. A 2012 compromise measure enacted by the city council retained the angled spots, but switched them to face the opposite way, while converting the block to one-way traffic. That, city staffers said, was because the newly reconfigured streetscape, with wider sidewalks and crossing bump-outs, coupled with state and federal recommendations for wider and more steeply angled parking spots than what had been there previously, would not leave room enough on Ocean for angled parking and two lanes of traffic.

But residents complained that the one-way flow was feeding traffic onto the side streets and creating disruption to their neighborhood. Tipping the scales in their favor – some residents found a clause in city ordinances, in effect since 1966, which actually bans angled parking on streets citywide in deference to the parallel configuration.

That seemed to settle the issue, but last week one Knightville businessman has taken out a petition to undo the council vote.

Early media reports attributed that effort to Alan Cardinal, owner of Legion Square Market. However, Cardinal said Tuesday that he only helped the leader of that effort get off the starting blocks.

Realtor Curtis Bates, who keeps an office across Ocean Street from the market, said he is indeed the force behind the petition, currently collecting signatures door-to-door.

The South Portland City Charter allows residents to bypass the city council and put an ordinances before voters with a petition singed by 5 percent of “qualified electors,” meaning registered voters who cast ballots in the most recent municipal election.

City Clerk Emily Carrington has fixed the number of signatures needed at 944. Curtis has until July 31 to get his petition to Carrington in order to make the November ballot. His proposal would overturn the council’s March traffic order with an ordinance allowing angled parking wherever an exemption to the old parallel- only rule is made.

However, by that time the new street configuration will have been painted in place. The city currently has re-striping of Ocean Street scheduled for the overnight hours of May 31.

Even though the city council is aware of Bates’ petition effort, the May 31 changeover will not be delayed.

“Government does not stop for something that may or may not happen,” Mayor Tom Blake said at a recent council meeting.

Bates said he hopes his petition will result in the lines being put back where they are now, and lead to a process eliminating the angled parking ban from the city’s code of ordinances.

“I’ve lived here since 2005 and I’ve seen what’s going on,” he said Tuesday. “But I look at what Knightville could become in the next 10 to 15 years. I looked at what happened, with the complaints about the angled parking, as a few people concerned about their personal needs and not looking at the big picture of what’s good for the area and the residents and the businesses, as well as the entire community.”

Curtis said he’d prefer a solution often championed by Michael Drinan, whose property management office overlooks the block at the center of both the downtown district, and the traffic debate.

“I’d actually like to see Ocean Street be one-way, all the way from Legion Square to Knightville Park,” Bates said.

Whether that will happen is up to the city council, Bates said. Meanwhile, he’s focused on finding people to sign his petition, with just two others currently collecting names.

“It was a little slow at first, but it’s going well now,” he said. “We’re getting lots of good feedback.”

Meanwhile, other ideas have been floated for ways to bring all sides to a state of détente over the parking wars.

At the May 16 council meeting, Paul Trusiani said spots the city stripped off as no parking in front of his building at 79 Ocean St. could easily be converted into two parking spots. Lessening his curb cut, he said, would make a third – enough to make back more than half of the spots to be lost on the block when the May 31 changeover occurs.

“I’ve tried to stay out of the whole parking (issue). The politics of the neighborhood have soured enough that I really don’t want to get into the discussion,” he said. “I want us to be neighborly. And I think (the council) needs to get out of the business of picking winners and lowers and get into the business of being fair about this whole thing.”

Meanwhile, Mussey Street resident Greg Lewis said the trick is to get people into the neighborhood who might not travel downtown otherwise, to make up for any lost business due to fewer, or less convenient, on-street parking spots.

“A bus stop might help get a few more people a little closer to that area,” he said.

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