AUGUSTA — Changes could be coming to downtown parking rules to accommodate an influx of new residents to Water Street area apartment buildings.

City councilors meet Thursday night to discuss amending the city’s winter nighttime parking ban to allow vehicles to remain parked overnight on the east side of Commercial Street.

The change would designate the east side of Commercial Street, a one-way street parallel to Water Street between Bridge and Oak streets, and Commercial Street Extension, between Water and Bridge streets, as overnight parking during the winter months so residents don’t have to park too far away from their apartments at night, said Deputy Police Chief Jared Mills.

Overnight parking there now, as on most city streets, is banned during the winter, though that ban is often not enforced unless vehicles are parked where they interfere with snow removal.

An influx of new residents have come downtown with the development of new housing, including 25 to 30 new upscale apartments in the downtown area of Water Street, City Manager William Bridgeo said. Many of those residents have cars, and most of the downtown apartments don’t have their own dedicated parking lots for residents to park in, so they park on the street.

“When I moved downtown five years ago, I was the only car parked downtown at night,” said Tobias Parkhurst, a downtown resident, landlord and a trustee of the Augusta Parking District, a quasi-municipal organization that oversees parking rules and their enforcement downtown. “Now, it’s thriving. Restaurants are open and we’re starting to see a resident population there.”

Bridgeo said city staff, downtown residents, the Augusta Downtown Alliance, and the trustees of the Augusta Parking District “all recognize parking regulations need to be modified so we can reduce the level of difficulty that residents experience downtown, particularly in the wintertime. Many of these wonderful new downtown apartments, whose owners have invested a substantial amount of money in, do not come with dedicated parking. And the regulations can be confusing to comply with. So we’ve made it a priority to fix that. Beginning with the winter parking ban.”

Parkhurst said city police and public works employees have gone far out of their way to avoid towing downtown residents, even when their cars are parked in the way of snow removal, plowing around vehicles or making efforts to reach vehicle owners so they can move their cars.

He said the idea of the change is to move overnight downtown parkers to the left side of Commercial Street, so city snowplows can continue to plow to the right of the street. He said the city’s parking regulations can be confusing to residents, and some regulations aren’t noted in signs on the street, so some residents have been left parking somewhere they aren’t sure is legal for overnight parking.

Parkhurst said downtown parking is “a little bit of a free-for-all right now, quite honestly.”

He said that’s been more of an inconvenience for public works and the police department “because they work really hard not to tow people.”

“Towing a resident is the last thing they want to do,” Parkhurst said. “In the past there has been an effort to be lenient. This is more of an effort to be clear. I think it’s better to be clear.”

Bridgeo said further changes to downtown parking regulations will likely come from the Augusta Parking District, which he said has the authority over downtown parking rules.

“We’re lucky the city and parking district are as supportive and receptive of the new types of development there,” Parkhurst said. “They could just say, ‘that’s the way it is.’ It’s another example of the city of Augusta pulling out all the stops to make things easy on investors trying to make things happen downtown, and it goes right from the top down, from the city manager to patrolmen at night.”

Councilors are scheduled to discuss the proposed change to city winter overnight parking rules at their informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

In other business, the council is scheduled to consider major changes recommended by the Planning Board to the Riggs Brook Village Zone.

Bridgeo said when the third bridge was being planned and built across the Kennebec River, city officials set specific zoning rules in areas near the bridge at the intersection of Route 3, Church Hill Road, Riverside Drive and West River Road. He said city officials and the Augusta Board of Trade anticipated the area would see significant development and zoned the area seeking to have the land there used for the highest and best purposes.

Bridgeo and Matt Nazar, development director, said the expected development boom in the area hasn’t taken place. Nazar said some aspects of the current zoning are confusing and have been a “serious impediment on a number of projects.” So a Planning Board subcommittee did a “significant reworking” of the Riggs Brook Village Zone, Nazar said, which councilors will review Thursday.

Councilors are also scheduled to:

• discuss using the “construction management” method of selecting a contractor for the upcoming Lithgow Library renovation and expansion;

• hear an update on Mount Vernon Avenue road construction planned for next construction season;

• discuss proposed land donations to the city;

• discuss how and when to fill two vacancies, one on the city council because of the election of former At-Large Councilor David Rollins as mayor and one on the school board coming in January because of the election of At-Large Member Kimberly Martin to board chairwoman.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj


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