2014-11-20 / Front Page

Mayor to ‘re- tool’ committee

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Mayor Alan Casavant wants the city council to devise a new approach to a downtown parking plan, and hasn’t yet decided whether to completely dissolve the ad hoc Downtown Parking Education Committee or expand its objectives. The committee was formed to educate the public about the findings of various parking studies commissioned by the city.

Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills, who was chairman the committee, informed members by email that the committee’s tenure was ending in December, instead of next year as originally intended.

“I still feel that we could have stayed actively involved in the process,” Mills said, “but the mayor would like to ‘retool’ the approach and effort.”

Mills said the proposed Lincoln Hotel and Lofts project – a $50 million plan by Odyssey Properties LLC to redevelop Lincoln Mill – will “dramatically change” the parking structure downtown.

“Yes, there is a need to create a parking management plan and to implement the ‘lower hanging fruits’ of the study and that will happen,” Mills wrote.

When the committee was formed Aug. 5, Mills requested it remain active until December 2015, to which Casavant agreed.

Casavant said he had intended for the committee to be dissolved by the end of the year, and called the confusion over the end date an “oversight.”

Committee Member Martine Eon responded to Casavant, “There was frustration and confusion expressed by some members, myself included. We were told this committee’s end date was December 2015. Then suddenly after the election, the committee was dissolved. The entire experience lacked clarity.”

On Nov. 4, a citizen-initiated referendum question that asked voters whether the city should install parking meters downtown failed.

Casavant said with the meter referendum failing, the city is prohibited from installing meters downtown without approval from the voters, but what constitutes downtown has never been adequately defined.

“The city has three working definitions of what downtown is,” he said.

Casavant said the sidebar discussion on parking inventory that occurred among members of the Downtown Parking Education Committee is still something that needs to be addressed.

“What’s going to have to happen is, there’s a need for some new entity to not only pick up the ball from that, but also to expand the objective to include things like implementation or definition of downtown,” Casavant said.

There are several options, Casavant said, including reconfiguring the Downtown Parking Education Committee into a new committee with a new objective creating a new entity such as a parking authority or assigning responsibilities to the public safety committee, which has overlapping interest in parking.

“The last thing I want to do is create redundancy,” Casavant said.

The idea of a permanent subdivision of government – a parking authority – whose responsibility is to manage parking, is something Casavant said he favors, but he is keeping an open mind to ideas from other councilors.

Casavant said he agrees with members of the Downtown Parking Education Committee that more information needs to be available to the public about where to park. Casavant said the city does not effectively use electronic media to help disseminate information.

A search engine inquiry for parking in Portland, Bangor, Lewiston or Old Orchard Beach directs people to websites, usually operated by the municipalities, that outlinesavailable options for parking, including street parking, surface lots and garages, as well as an explanation of parking rules and fines. A similar search for parking in Biddeford yields no similar results.

Casavant said marketing the city’s parking in such a way should be easy to do, and distributing brochures with information about parking is “doable.”

“The city could be more proactive in getting information out,” Casavant said. “We haven’t customarily been using (publicity efforts) very effectively. We should be marketing parking. We don’t do that either … The city wants to maximize parking, not hide parking.”

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