HALLOWELL — The City Council is expected to finalize Monday a $2.36 million bond package including $300,000 for parking improvements that would help alleviate potential parking problems during next year’s Water Street reconstruction project.

Councilor George LaPointe, chairman of the finance committee, said the money would be used to acquire four lots near Central Street and the historic Dummer House. LaPointe said the money also would help cover the cost of moving the Dummer House to Second Street and creating a new parking area on the acquired land.

“It’s a short-term action to get the properties and make some temporary parking during construction while still allowing for long-term planning,” LaPointe said. “It’s a lot of money, but it’s been an ongoing problem for business owners and residents for a long time.”

Chris Vallee is a Water Street business owner and resident, and he is also the president of the Hallowell Area Board of Trade. He thinks money spent on parking improvements is a great investment for the city.

“Now more than ever, parking is desperately needed,” said Vallee, who owns Vallee Real Estate at 89 Water St. and is a partner in the Quarry Tap Room just a short walk from there. “For years, downtown consisted of mostly antique shops, but today there are several bars and restaurants which didn’t exist 15 years ago and which generate much more traffic.”

Vallee said he thinks most people on the council, the parking committee and the Board of Trade and business owners are on the same page about needing more parking.

LaPointe said the original bond proposal called for an additional $300,000 toward construction of a new parking lot, but councilors thought spending $30,000 to $60,000 per new parking space was not a sound financial decision. He said the council might need to consider budgeting additional money for the construction of a more permanent parking area, and he thinks there are more affordable ways to do it.

“I think the original estimate was the Cadillac version, but there are (cheaper) options to make more parking spaces,” he said.

Last January, Mayor Mark Walker appointed a parking committee specifically tasked with exploring down Hallowell parking issues and seeking ways to gain more permanent parking. After about a year of meetings, research, workshops and hearings, the committee presented its report to the City Council outlining 18 recommendations designed to help solve the downtown parking problem.

The committee, chaired by longtime municipal planning consultant Frank O’Hara, found that there is a shortage of several hundred parking spaces in downtown Hallowell, using standard traffic handbook calculations. However, the experiences of store owners, residents, employees and customers is the primary indicator, the report said, and those experiences show that finding parking isn’t the challenge it might appear to be.

“Parking is hard to find, particularly in peak times on weekends and in the summer, and weekdays at lunch between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.,” the report stated.

The committee’s report stated that using the standard metrics of the Institute of Transportation Engineers shows that Water Street’s businesses, stores and apartments need about 500 parking spaces. The report goes on to state that for nine months of the year, excluding the summer, and on most weekdays year-round, parking in downtown Hallowell is manageable.

Maine Department of Transportation project manager Ernie Martin said there are currently 86 striped spaces on Water Street, and plans call for 103 marked and legal spaces following reconstruction. There are unmarked spaces north of Winthrop Street and some other parking areas around Water Street that aren’t striped.

LaPointe said solving the city’s parking problems will take a combination of finding new spots where people can park and managing how people park in a responsible way.

The parking committee said employees and tenants park for long periods on Water Street or in adjacent parking lots, making the spaces unavailable for high-turnover customer use, so the committee recommended tenants pay a small fee each year to the city for a permit granting them long-term access to downtown parking.

The council discussed this option in past meetings, but it hasn’t decided how the permit system would be implemented and monitored or how much a parking permit would cost.

RESERVED PARKING?

Nathan Sennett, owner of Lux Salon at 181 Water St., said via Facebook that parking isn’t as big a problem as people parking for longer than the posted time limits is. A part-time parking enforcement officer this summer seemed to solve the problem, Sennett said.

“A fee would be appropriate for residents, allowing them to park for longer periods than the posted limits,” he said. “I strongly agree with this idea and think it would solve a lot of the parking issues people seem to have.”

According to the committee report, there are 76 apartment units on Water Street, with 53 on the east, or river, side. Most of those apartments have permanent parking on Front Street along the river, but in general, the 23 apartments on the west side of Water Street don’t have reserved parking.

Lynn Irish is an at-large city councilor, a parking committee member, a Water Street business owner and a proponent of more downtown parking. She said not having reserved parking makes it hard for landlords to rent apartments to certain tenants.

“There are a lot of single people that rent on Water Street because landlords can’t rent to couples because they usually have more than one car,” Irish said.

Josh Lavec, owner of the Forbidden Fruit glass art gallery on the east side, said parking isn’t a concern for the tenants who live above his shop. But he said the reconstruction project has a lot of unknown variables, so he is planning to build a staircase behind the building — which he owns — for tenants to use next year.

“I’ll be planning for it this summer,” Lavec said. “I think next year is going to be a pretty serious issue.”

He said he didn’t know about the Water Street reconstruction project when he bought the building and opened his store a few months ago. If he had, Lavec said, he would’ve been more hesitant about moving forward with the deal.

One thing Lavec mentioned as a solution to parking problems is a parking garage. It’s something that has been mentioned in casual conversation among city officials and residents, but Rudy said it isn’t being considered seriously because of the high capital cost involved, which he estimated to be at least $2 million.

“Unless it was paid parking with hundreds of spots, the return on investment would be like 20 years,” he said. “And because of the associated maintenance costs, it would probably be a recurring budget item every year.”

Another possible way to ease some of the parking strain expected during construction next year is using part of the Stevens Commons campus as a parking area and shuttling people down to Water Street. Rudy said he thinks it’s a great idea, but nobody has come forward yet with a plan.

Developer Matt Morrill bought the 54-acre Stevens Commons site from the state last April and has since started the long process of turning the property into a mixed-use development. On several occasions, he has said he is willing to help business owners and the city during the Water Street reconstruction project.

City Manager Nate Rudy said there’s no question that downtown parking will be a problem next year during the Water Street reconstruction project. In general, however, he doesn’t think Hallowell’s parking problems are as bad as they seem.

“Except for peak hours, it’s not as much of a problem as people perceive it to be,” Rudy said Wednesday. “A lot of people would argue the problem is overblown, because most of the time, it’s not that hard to find a parking space in Hallowell.”

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

Tiana Bonenfant, the bar manager at Buddy’s Diner on the corner of Water and Winthrop streets, said she hasn’t heard any complaints from customers about a lack of parking, though customers often asking her where they should park. The diner has two reserved spots behind the restaurant and there are another five in that parking lot that are first-come, first-serve, Bonenfant said.

Rudy admitted there is a “run” on parking spaces in downtown Hallowell during peak times, but he added that is the case anywhere.

“We have our share of issues and woes, but most of the time, it’s not that hard to find a parking space in Hallowell,” he said.

Rudy conceded that finding parking during the construction period beginning in March 2018 will be a problem. He said it’ll be hard to find a spot within 50 feet of a desired destination during the construction season, scheduled to run from about March to October.

“We will adapt,” he said. “I hope that we’re able to produce adequate signage to help people find available lots and places to park.”

Rudy said he wants to make sure people know that even though Water Street is under construction next year, downtown Hallowell will be open for business.

The proposed bond package also includes $600,000 for the Stevens Commons project, more than $500,000 for the Water Street reconstruction and more than $500,000 for rural road maintenance.

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ