AUGUSTA — The time limit for parking spaces on most of Water Street in the city’s downtown has been raised to two hours from the previous one-hour limit.

Officials hope the change will give shoppers and diners more time to spend in the city’s downtown shops and restaurants and said it is more in line with parking restrictions elsewhere.

Some merchants support the change while others say it won’t benefit most downtown businesses and fear it could make finding a place to park harder because spots will be occupied for longer periods of time.

New signs, noting the new two-hour limit, which only applies to weekdays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., went up last week on the main downtown portion of Water Street. The one hour limit remains in place on the northern end of Water Street between the railway trestle and Bridge Street intersection for now. A proposal to change that section of Water Street to two-hour as well awaits action by the Augusta City Council.

James Bass, a board member of the Augusta Parking District, which oversees parking regulations and enforcement in much of the downtown area, said most other municipalities of similar size in Maine already have two-hour time limits on parking in their downtowns. And, he said, district officials had heard from some that the one-hour limit didn’t give people enough time to have lunch downtown without worrying about exceeding the limit.

Bass said in an informal survey a majority of business owners who gave input indicated they favored increasing the limit to two hours.

Betsy Curtis, owner of Betsy’s, a home decor, furniture and formal wear consignment shop downtown, said she thinks it is a great move, and some of her customers have already mentioned they noticed and appreciated the change.

“They haven’t felt so rushed,” Curtis said. “If they’re shopping at my store, they can go down and grab a coffee at Vickery Cafe or go to another business, stay longer and not feel the need to rush.”

Curtis said it’s unlikely a typical customer would spend more than an hour in her shop, but said other businesses, such as restaurants, hair salons or places offering classes, have customers who are likely to remain for longer than an hour. She cited Merkaba Sol, which has classes in reiki that could run longer than an hour, potentially making people taking classes there worried about the one-hour time limit.

Dale Hatch, owner of Augusta Vacuum & Supply, said other than restaurants he doesn’t think very many of the businesses downtown will benefit from the change because most are specialized businesses where people come for a specific service or product and are done in less than an hour.

“Most businesses downtown are specialty shops, so customers already have in mind what they want when they walk through the door, and they’re in and out,” Hatch said. “I can see where it would be helpful for the breakfast and lunch crowd, but I’m not sure it’d help any of the other, more boutique businesses.”

Hatch said parking is already limited, is an issue downtown, and he doesn’t see the necessity of the change.

“Parking has always been an issue, and if you have cars staying longer in one location, you multiply the problem,” he said. “Parking needs a reasonable time limit.”

Tobias Parkhurst, chairman of the Augusta Parking District board and chairman of the Augusta Downtown Alliance board, said the downtown parking time limits have previously been lengthened to two hours for the holiday season and then changed back to one hour after New Year’s Eve. This year, it didn’t change back and he said the change is expected to be permanent.

He said the change was made after looking at what is done in other downtowns and after getting feedback from downtown merchants.

Bass said the district would also like the authority to set the time limit for the 20 or so parking spaces on Water Street between Bridge Street and the railroad trestle.

City Manager William Bridgeo said the city currently has the authority to set parking time limits on that part of Water Street, unlike the area just to the south where the parking district sets the limits.

City councilors, when Bass presented the quasi-municipal Augusta Parking District’s plans to them recently, said they don’t have any problems with the change. Councilors held a first reading of two required on that ordinance change Jan. 21, at which no opposition was expressed. They could vote on it for the final time Feb. 4.

Bass said the change isn’t set in stone, and after a year or so, if two hours seems too long to allow parking downtown, the district could revisit the issue.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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