Facing opposition from downtown business owners and a lawsuit filed by a resident, Biddeford city officials will hold a community meeting Monday night to try to shore up support for a new parking plan that includes new fees to use downtown parking lots.

City officials, who say the plan is designed to make parking easier for customers, said they scheduled the meeting to address misinformation circulating about the program. Business owners have been criticizing the charging of fees as a threat to their bottom lines.

The meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Little Theater in Biddeford High School, comes weeks after a resident sued to stop the city from implementing a City Council-approved parking plan that requires people to pay to park in municipal lots in the downtown area. Users of the lots will either buy a monthly pass from the city or pay by the hour at kiosks.

When the plan is implemented Dec. 1, parking on city streets will continue to be free but limited to two hours.

“There is so much misunderstanding about the whole plan,” Mayor Alan Casavant said. “I continue to get calls from people upset about parking meters and paying to park, and I have to point out there are no meters and you don’t have to pay to park.”

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.

City officials say the new parking plan was designed to address a parking shortage in the city and free up spots on the street for people who are visiting. Many of those spots are currently used by people who work downtown, although many employees also park in municipal lots.

Donna Day, a stylist at the Hair Shak on Main Street, told city councilors during a Nov. 8 meeting that many downtown business owners are concerned about the impact that new parking fees will have on their revenue. She said she will have to pay $65 a month – a total of $780 per year – for a permit to park so she can go to work.

“I’m told, ‘Well, Portland does this.’ But I didn’t choose to live in Portland,” Day said. “Maybe I could generate that revenue in Portland and charge more in Portland, but I’m not going to do that on Main Street in Biddeford when they could go to Walmart, not pay to park and pay 12 bucks to get a haircut.”

Rebecca Brouillette, a chiropractor who lives and works downtown, told city councilors that the parking plan will affect her year-old business because she will have to buy 24-hour permits for herself, her husband and her employee. She also said city officials need to do a better job of communicating with residents and business owners.

Casavant agreed that the city needs to better explain the new system and why councilors support it as a way to balance the increasing demand for a finite number of parking spaces.

“The objective of the council, myself and staff is to improve the business climate in the downtown,” he said. “The council determined Main Street and the downtown is a commercial area. We want to be able to get as many shoppers into the area as we possibly can.”

Officials also say the plan is consistent with the results of a 2014 referendum that prohibited parking meters on downtown streets.

Resident Jason Litalien believes the city is violating the referendum results and has filed motions in York County Superior Court to try to stop the city from moving forward with the plan. His first motion filed last month for a temporary restraining order was denied, but he has since filed for a preliminary injunction.

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.

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

 

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