WATERVILLE — The City Council voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to reject a request by Hathaway Creative Center developer Paul Boghossian to lease spaces in the city-owned parking lot on lower Front Street.

The 6-1 vote followed a lengthy debate among councilors, Boghossian, business owners and residents about Boghossian’s need for more parking spaces for his Water Street development versus parking needs of businesses, their customers and people who work downtown and use the lot.

Boghossian has more than 500 people living and working in the former Hathaway shirt factory building and plans to develop the two buildings to its north. In order to get financing for his projects, he must be able to show the bank he would have the number of parking spaces the bank requires. He said he expects to start developing the former Central Maine Power Co. building, just north of Hathaway, this year. When that is completed, he would start on the former Marden’s industrial building next to the Ticonic Bridge.

Boghossian initially asked to lease 50 spaces in the Front Street lot for $25 per space per year for five years, but City Manager Michael Roy recommended the council consider approving a lease for 30 spaces. Boghossian would enforce parking in his leased area and the city would continue to maintain the lot with plowing, sanding and other needs, according to the proposal.

“The intent is not to crowd out other people. It’s just to generate some economic activity here, …” Boghossian said.

Boghossian has more than 100 parking spaces at the main Hathaway building and uses a city-owned lot at the corner of Spring and Water streets. Last fall, he purchased the former KFC property on Water Street with an eye toward using it for additional parking in the future.

“When I need it, it will be appropriate to tear it down and improve the lot at that point,” he said.

Al Hodsdon, owner of A.E. Hodsdon Engineers on Common Street, said he is all for business development, but he isn’t sure that leasing parking space to one organization or business over another is the way to do that.

“I say we go back to the drawing board and get a system that will work for Mr. Boghossian,” he said.

Hodsdon said he has seven employees who use the city lot. Other businesses on Common Street also use it.

“We’re looking at 30 to 45 people that need to use the parking,” said Hodsdon, whose business has been in existence 41 years and on Common Street for 36.

Hugh Phelps stood to say that he and his wife, Norma, bought the Morning Sentinel building at 31 Front St. 1 1/2 years ago and his daughter, Julie Phelps, and her physician’s practice partner, Susan Childs, moved Waterville Family Practice into the second floor of the building a month ago. The Sentinel now leases the first floor.

The physician’s practice has 16 employees and generates 100 patient visitors a day, and the Sentinel has 30 employees, Phelps said. He said when he bought the building he knew parking would be an issue, but he was reassured that the city lot would be available for use.

“It was on that basis that we made that commitment to the purchase,” he said, adding that if Boghossian’s request were approved, access to the lot would be limited.

South End resident Scott McAdoo urged the council to reject the proposal, saying a lot of businesses use the lot, and with efforts underway to rejuvenate Main Street, the lot will be needed for people visiting downtown. He said the KFC property should provide more parking for the Hathaway complex.

“I think this is a bad idea, especially knowing he’s (Boghossian) got a lot he can put 30 to 40 cars in — at least 20 — in that space,” McAdoo said.

Scott Monroe, managing editor of the Morning Sentinel, which is owned by MaineToday Media, said the Sentinel has use of only 10 parking spaces on the property at 31 Front St. for employees who need to leave at a moment’s notice, and the majority of Sentinel employees use the city-owned lot. He said he counted vehicles in the lot at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and 27 were parked there. He has seen close to 40 cars parked there on certain days, he added.

“We’re concerned about this creating some parking problems, not just for us, for other surrounding businesses,” Monroe said.

He noted that the main Hathaway lot has 135 parking spaces, the city lot off Water Street which Hathaway uses has 103 spaces and at 2 p.m. Tuesday, that city lot had only 28 cars in it.

Former Mayor Karen Heck reminded those present that several years ago when the Hathaway shirt factory closed and there was little hope of anyone developing it, Boghossian bought the building and started making it into something that no one actually believed would happen. MaineGeneral Health has hundreds of employees working there and the 67 high-end apartments are full with a waiting list.

Heck said if the bank says Boghossian must have a certain number of parking spaces in order for him to continue developing the buildings, the city should support that, she said.

Meanwhile, Boghossian said financial institutions are strict about parking requirements.

“I have lived this almost nonstop since last November, when our current financing for Hathaway matured, and it has been parking that has prohibited us from refinancing that aspect of it,” he said.

If he develops two more buildings and has 400 people living and working in them, a lot of parking spaces will be required, he said.

Councilor Karen Rancourt-Thomas, D-Ward 7, suggested tabling the issue, as she said she was not ready to vote.

“I’m just really torn between this,” she said. “I don’t like to pit business against business.”

She said the city is grateful to Boghossian, but it also is grateful to other businesses.

“This is really a quagmire,” she said. “It’s a hard thing. I’m really going to have a hard time deciding which way to go on this.

The council voted to reject Boghossian’s request, with Councilor Dana Bushee, D-Ward 6, as the lone dissenter.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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