WATERVILLE — Downtown revitalization is in full swing, with construction of a $25 million Colby College residential complex underway on Main Street and renovation of the former Hains Building across the street having been completed.

Next up, Colby plans to build a boutique hotel starting next year at the former Levine’s clothing store site at the south end of downtown and is considering plans for the former Waterville Hardware building across the street.

With improvements being made, officials are exploring the possibility of changing the traffic pattern on Main and Front streets downtown from one-way to two-way, looking at possible funding sources to do that and considering what changes would have to be made to make the traffic pattern change workable and user-friendly for downtown businesses and building owners, as well as for the public.

Toward that end, the City Council on Tuesday will consider voting to support an estimated $4.4 million change in downtown traffic patterns that would make Main and Front streets two-way and include significant changes to intersections downtown. Mayor Nick Isgro and City Manager Michael Roy emphasized that if the council votes to support the idea, it does not mean two-way traffic will be instituted.

Isgro said Friday that before any exploration can take place, the council must show support for the two-way traffic idea.

“What this vote does is it sends a signal to the state Department of Transportation that we are ready to take a serious look at this because they’re building a two-year plan with the governor’s office, and Commissioner (David) Bernhardt has been incredibly supportive and wants to be able to dedicate resources to the project,” Isgro said. “At the same time, because we committed not to raise taxes, we have people ready now to start applying for grants.”

The council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday in the council chamber on the third floor of The Center at 93 Main St. downtown. The council is required to take only one vote on the resolution.

The resolution also says major improvements could be made at a number of downtown intersections to help improve pedestrian safety if Main and Front streets are made two-way.

The changes and improvements, the resolution says, would be in keeping with recommendations noted in a downtown feasibility study completed in December.

Roy said funding possibly could come from federal, state, private or outside sources. He said if the council approves the idea of the traffic pattern changes and funding is secured for that, public meetings would be held before the start of any construction to allow public input.

During discussions held about downtown revitalization, those who supported two-way traffic on Front and Main streets said the change would help to slow traffic down, make the area safer for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists, and encourage people to stop, shop, eat and recreate downtown.

Many years ago, when malls were built outside the downtown and people wanted to get through downtown more quickly, Main Street was changed from two-way to one-way; but now the focus is on revitalizing the downtown and drawing more people to live, work and spend time there, officials say.

BUSINESSES CONCERNED

Some business owners are concerned that having two-way traffic would cause problems when delivery trucks need to park downtown. The traffic change also would make it difficult for elderly patrons to reach those businesses, they say.

Amy Cyrway, who owns The Framemakers with her husband, Brian Vigue, described an incident she said occurred Friday morning. A delivery truck stopped at a nearby business, but the business owner was delayed in getting there because of road construction on his way to work.

“If not for the fact that we have one-way traffic, it would have been problematic at best because he took up an entire lane to deliver some materials,” Cyrway said.

Businesses on the west side of Main Street have entrances on The Concourse as well as Main Street, she said, but there is an elevation difference of 7 or 8 feet from Main Street to The Concourse, so The Concourse entrances have stairs. Elderly people have a difficult time using the stairs and must use the Main Street entrances, she said. If parking is removed from Main Street, the elderly will not be able to get to businesses.

“I can’t imagine two-way traffic slowing down traffic for pedestrians either,” Cyrway said. “It’s 25 miles per hour as it is right now. I can’t see how that’s going to be any friendlier.”

But Isgro said officials have said all along that the concerns Cyrway raises would be addressed as part of the exploration process and that it is important that the majority of downtown businesses and building owners support two-way traffic, or it will not happen.

Isgro said he supports two-way traffic, but only if it garners wide support.

“I’m supportive of it with the caveat that the majority of downtown businesses and building owners support it,” he said. “In order for them to do that, we’re going to have to address the concerns when it comes to planning.”

Isgro, Colby President David Greene, city officials, downtown business advocates and those involved in the arts met several times over the last year and a half to explore ways to help improve the downtown, draw more people there, help support and enhance existing business and arts organizations and help boost economic development. Priorities they identified to help make improvements included addressing vacant and dilapidated buildings.

Colby plans to infuse some $60 million into downtown revitalization. The college bought and renovated the former Hains building at 173 Main St., which is housing Colby staff members and employees of technology business CGI Group. Colby also bought the northeast corner of The Concourse from the city and is building the residential complex that will house some 200 students and faculty and staff members involved in a special civic engagement and community service curriculum.

Also, Colby bought the former Levine’s clothing store lot at 9 Main St. and demolished the building with plans to build a boutique hotel that will include parking on Front Street. The college is mulling plans for the property across the street, which the college also bought.

Council Chairman Steve Soule, D-Ward 1, said Friday that he never knows how the rest of the council feels about a particular resolution, but he supports the idea of pursuing funding for two-way traffic and thinks the change would draw more people downtown.

“Looking back 50 years ago, we changed from two-way to one-way and people said it would never work,” Soule said. “I think change would be good again. A lot of other towns and cities have changed to two-way, and almost all of them have not regretted it.”

CREDIT UNION ZONING

In other matters Tuesday, councilors will consider approving a recommendation by the Planning Board to rezone 299 Main St. and 70 Oak St. from Residential-C to Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A to allow KV Federal Credit Union to build a branch there.

At the Planning Board’s Aug. 7 meeting, Dan Nichols, of the credit union, said the financial institution wants to move there from its current location on Quarry Road. The credit union wants to buy the Main and Oak street properties, which have a four-unit apartment building and a duplex, respectively, on those sites. The properties, just north of Beth Israel Congregation synagogue at 291 Main St., are owned by Brown House Properties and bounded by Kelsey, Main and Oak streets.

At the Aug. 7 meeting, an abutter on Kelsey Street said the credit union should provide an adequate buffer at the site. If the council approves the rezoning request, the Planning Board would address site design issues.

Planning Board member Bruce White made a motion to recommend the council rezone the properties with one condition of the contract — that the only permitted use for the properties is a financial institution. Planning Board member Lauren LePage seconded White’s motion, and the board voted 6-0 in favor of the recommendation with board member Scott Fortin abstaining.

Councilors on Tuesday also will consider awarding contracts for a dual compartment packer truck for trash and recyclables and a sidewalk tractor with attachments. Police mutual aid agreements, a contract to buy a police vehicle and a request to appoint former City Councilor Rosemary Winslow to the Haines Charity Relief Committee also are on Tuesday’s agenda.

At the end of the council meeting, South End resident Paula Raymond plans to present the idea of developing a rental registration ordinance that would require all landlords to register with the city and pay a fee.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 

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