2016-07-22 / Front Page

Parking petition pans parallel placement

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND — This week, the bell rang to start the latest round of a years-long battle over parking in South Portland’s historic Knightville district.

On Monday, a long-promised petition was submitted to City Clerk Emily Carrington. According to Curtis Bates, who initiated the petition process in May, the forms call on the city council to eliminate a ban on angled parking in the city, and then restore the angled spots on Ocean Street, on the block between Legion Square and D Street, that were repainted as parallel spots just after Memorial Day.

A realtor who keeps an office across Ocean Street, Bates said at the time he was motivated by thoughts of “what Knightville could become in the next 10 to 15 years,” and saw the angled arrangement as more conducive to business interests in the neighborhood.

A return to angled parking would likely also mean a return of the one-way configuration in front of Bates’ office, but he said at the time he’d actually prefer to see the single lane of traffic flow extended from Legion Square all the way to Thomas Knight Park.

Bates did not respond to requests for comment Monday or Tuesday and the 35 petition pages were submitted by another city realtor, April Cohen.

Those petitions came in late, but Carrington said her office would begin certifying the signatures and had 20 days to do so before sending the forms along to the city council.

The number of signatures needed to compel council action is fixed by the city charter at 5 percent of “qualified electors,” meaning registered voters. When Bates took out papers to begin the effort, Carrington calculated the number of names needed at 944. Cohen said Tuesday that while she did not have an exact count, the number of signatures submitted was “a little over 1,000.”

Cohen lives on Brown’s Hill, in the middle part of the city. Although Ocean Street parking has been positioned in the media as a Knightville issues since it first flared up 2012, Cohen said it’s really something that’s on the radar for all South Portland residents.

“I’m in Knightville at the CIA CafĂ© every day and it’s been a real inconvenience with parking down there since it was changed to parallel-only,” she said. “There have been many days when I’ve been unable to find a place there.”

As a realtor, and an active member of the South Portland Buy Local group, Cohen said Knightville’s renewed notoriety for “walkability” since a 2011 Ocean Street rebuild is “really cool.” However, for the neighborhood to thrive, it needs to be walkable by more than just the local residents. To walk Ocean Street and frequent its many new and venerable shops, shoppers from outside the area need to be able to access the area, she said, explaining her support for the petition.

Once the council receives and formally accepts the petition, it has one of three options – it can simply enact the requested ordinance changes, it can send those changes on to a referendum ballot for voter approval, or it can send the petition to vote alongside a competing measure of its own.

Assistant City Manager Josh Reny, who led an ad hoc committee that reached the accord that resulted in the change to parallel parking, declined to comment on the latest round.

Meanwhile, Mayor Tom Blake said the fight will probably continue regardless of who’s ahead on points when the bell rings next to call combatants to their respective corners.

“That’s been a long, contentious issue,” he said. “No matter what happens or not there, it will remain a contentious issue, even if the public votes on it. Fifty years from now, people will still be debating it.”

When Ocean Street was rebuilt in 2011 following a $3.6 million sewer system upgrade, the original plan was to replace angled parking spots that had existed since the last street reconfiguration, when the new Casco Bay Bridge was opened in the mid-1990s, with parallel spots. However, businesses complained they had not been consulted on the parking change, and objected to the resulting loss of 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.

Residents complained the one-way flow fed traffic onto the side streets, disrupting the calm of their neighborhoods. Tipping the scales in their favor after more than three years of debate – discovery of an ordinance restriction, in effect since 1966, which bans angled parking on streets citywide in deference to the parallel configuration.

In March, the city council reversed its earlier rulings, ordering a restoration of two-way traffic and conversion of the angled spots to parallel parking only.

Blake said he’s fielded “very few” complaints since the angled parking went away, including “maybe a couple on either side of the issue.” On Tuesday, he said it may be a good thing that the city went ahead and made the change, even though it knew the petition was coming.

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