A Biddeford resident is going to court to try to stop city officials from charging fees in downtown parking lots.

Jason Litalien filed a motion this week in York County Superior Court asking a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to stop a parking management plan approved by the City Council that will charge users to park in six downtown parking lots. Litalien’s request for a restraining order was denied Tuesday, but he plans to file a request for temporary and permanent injunctions this week because he believes the city is trying to circumvent a voter-approved ban on parking meters.

City officials say the new parking plan, set to take effect Nov. 1, is consistent with the results of a 2014 referendum to ban parking meters on downtown streets. On-street parking will still be free.

But under the new plan, people who want to park in the municipal lots can either buy a monthly pass or pay hourly at a kiosk.

“The city is confident the court will agree that a fair, impartial and thorough review of the parking program will show that it is not only consistent with the intent of the voters, but it is also exactly what the voters wanted when the referendum passed,” City Manager James Bennett said in written statement issued in response to Litalien’s court filing.

Parking has been a hot-button issue in Biddeford as the city experiences a surge of redevelopment in the downtown mill district. A small group of residents has pushed back against assertions by city officials that more parking is needed to accommodate downtown employees and residents, and has balked at the idea of a municipally funded parking garage.

In 2014, resident Paul Therrien led an effort to get on the ballot a referendum to ban parking meters downtown. The referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, came in response to discussions that the City Council was having about a future parking garage and meters, but no plan had been formally presented or voted on.

Even before the City Council placed the question on the ballot, there were questions at City Hall about the way the referendum was worded. The question asked: “Shall the City of Biddeford install parking meters in the greater downtown Biddeford area?” Officials questioned the definition of “greater downtown Biddeford” and whether there would be a time frame for installing the meters, but a city attorney determined the question could not be substantially altered to answer those questions.

In March this year, the City Council approved the design of a parking garage to be built at 3 Lincoln St., the city-owned property that once was home to the Maine Energy Recovery Co. trash incinerator. Councilors more recently approved a parking management plan that officials say is designed to free up on-street parking spots for people going to restaurants and stores while charging employees and residents to park for longer times in parking lots. Bennett said the plan shifts the costs associated with long-term parking away from city taxpayers and onto the people using the parking lots.

“By rejecting (the parking meter plan in 2014), citizens demonstrated that they did not want to pay for short-term parking on downtown streets to fund construction and maintenance of parking facilities,” Bennett said. “The city heard this message very clearly and stopped any discussions regarding installing parking meters on downtown streets. After a great deal of deliberation and citizen comment, it has designed a program that meeds the citizens’ desires.”

But Litalien says Bennett’s assertions about the intent of the referendum are “laughable” and that residents clearly do not want to pay to park anywhere in the downtown area. He said taxpayers already pay to maintain the lots and they’ll now be required to pay a second time to park. “The parking is part of our community and we’ve already told them we don’t want to pay,” he said. “If you can’t put in a parking meter, what makes you think you can put a kiosk and a monthly permit? They serve the exact same purpose.”

Litalien said he and others who support his court filings fear the parking changes will negatively affect businesses at a time when the city is trying to attract more people to the area. City officials created the parking issue by approving new housing and business projects in the mill district while at the same time waiving requirements that those projects have adequate parking to meet their needs, he said.

Litalien said Thursday morning that he is in the process of collecting affidavits from residents opposed to the parking plan – including the organizers behind the 2014 referendum – and that he plans to file his motion for an injunction by the end of the week.

There are eight city-owned lots in or near the downtown where residents can park with permits, which can be purchased on a short-term basis for $2 an hour. Long-term permits cost $20 a month for night parking, $30 a month for day parking or $40 a month for day and night.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 84 of the 208 parking permits available for downtown lots have been sold, Finance Director Cheryl Fournier told the Journal Tribune.

The existing parking supply in the combined Mill District/downtown area includes 419 municipal parking lot spaces, 1,705 private lot spaces and 765 on-street spaces – a total of 2,889 spaces, according to the Journal Tribune.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @grahamgillian

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