WATERVILLE — With ongoing downtown revitalization efforts comes an inevitable shift in the availability of parking spaces in certain areas, prompting the city to look at ways to alleviate the problem in the short term.

Eventually, a comprehensive downtown parking management plan will be developed, but that can’t be done until changes taking place downtown are complete.

Those changes include the building of a hotel by Colby College on Main Street, changing the traffic pattern on Main and Front streets to two-way from the current one-way, redesigning Castonguay Square, improving intersections at places such as Main and Spring streets to the south and Front Street and College Avenue to the north, and so on.

Colby is investing many millions of dollars in the downtown. By all accounts, having more people living and working downtown is a good thing, but with that benefit comes growing pains.

Some business owners on The Concourse, for instance, say they love having Colby students living downtown, but they park for long periods of time in spaces near the businesses that older customers typically use.

At the city’s parking study committee meeting Jan. 17, Ken Vlodek, who with his family has owned Yardgoods Center since 1949, expressed frustration about the parking problems. Police Chief Joseph Massey said the police department does not have the resources to devote to full-time parking enforcement, and it is not an efficient use of a police officer’s time, but he acknowledged that enforcement would help alleviate the problem.

In response, Colby has offered the police department $10,000 to hire a person specifically for parking enforcement. The college also is offering to fund a study for redesigning The Concourse to help improve parking there.

“I think that they heard the concerns from a number of people at the parking committee meeting and have responded very, very appropriately, I think,” City Manager Michael Roy said Monday of Colby’s offer. “I think it’s an acknowledgment that the new building has caused some stress in that area of The Concourse, especially.”

Parking in The Concourse in Waterville as seen on Jan. 17 will largely remain the same pending changes in road traffic and parking plans for downtown Waterville. However, there have been complaints that Colby College students are taking up parking spaces in the area while others have noted that up to 20 spaces are available at any time of day in the two-hour section.

ACCEPTING THE COLBY GIFT IS FIRST STEP

The City Council on Feb. 5 will consider taking a first vote to accept the $10,000 Colby gift. The council must take two votes and may not do both on the same evening. Councilors also will consider approving a recommendation Feb. 5 by the parking study committee to increase the city’s parking fine amount from $10 to $25. As part of that vote, fines for those parking illegally in handicapped spaces would increase from $50 to $100. Massey recommended the increases.

Brian Clark, vice president of planning for Colby, said Monday that for the last couple of years, Colby has been working with the city and downtown businesses to consider a comprehensive parking strategy for downtown and has expressed support for a set of changes that will help maximize the efficiency of existing parking as development activity brings new residents and visitors to the Main Street area.

“While those changes ultimately need to be decided upon and managed by the city, we continue to be wholly supportive, and our recent commitment of $10,000 to fund a parking enforcement position for one year is one expression of that commitment,” Clark said. “We look forward to continuing to work through and contribute to other concepts, including a potential redesign of The Concourse to maximize the use of that site.”

Clark said Colby is aware of, and very sensitive to, the concerns of some businesses and of the Waterville Public Library about parking availability.

“Colby students are, of course, required to adhere to the same parking regulations as anyone else living in or visiting the City, and with that said, we also are discussing the possibility of internal changes to help ensure that student residents park in the designated, Colby-owned lot on Appleton Street.”

Vlodek’s sister, Joyce Vlodek Atkins, said Monday at her family’s business near the Colby building that she is afraid ticketing more vehicles will mean her customers will get ticketed, as the parking ordinance prohibits parking more than two hours in front of Yardgoods, and knitting classes at the business are 2.5 hours long. Many of her customers are older and have to carry heavy knitting bags and the like, and parking farther away is difficult for them, she said.

She said she loves the Colby students — she employs two Colby alumni — but they should park in their lot on Appleton Street or at Head of Falls, which would allow business customers to be able to park close to where they shop and eat.

Bette Sturtevant, a clerk and knitting teacher at Yardgoods, worries that the people who will get ticketed are customers — and the city encourages more people to come downtown.

“Giving out tickets won’t help. It will make matters worse for us,” she said.

Joe Marcoux, owner of The Villager, a restaurant in the same block as Yardgoods Center, pointed to a car with an out-of-state plate that he said was parked in the lot all day Sunday and nearly all day Monday.

He said he thinks ticketing cars will be a deterrent, and he hopes Colby’s offer of $10,000 to help with parking enforcement will make a difference.

The Joan & Bill Alfond Main Street Commons lights up Main Street in downtown Waterville on Oct. 30. Residents of the hall are encouraged to park in the lots on Appleton Street or Head of Falls or to leave their vehicles on campus.

“I think it’s a good idea, if that’s what they want to do,” he said.

Bruce Fowler, a property manager downtown, said that with budget constraints the city faces, the Colby offer helps.

“I think they realize that the students are parking here, but it’s two-hour parking, so they have a right to park here like anybody else,” he said. “It benefits Colby also, by contributing, because it frees up spaces the violators are using. Colby’s enterprises need parking. It’s great that they’re contributing toward enforcing parking ordinances.”

Around 4 p.m. Monday, the lot in front of Yardgoods and The Villager, which has between 65 and 70 spaces — it was difficult to tell because of snow in some places — had about 20 empty spots. Twenty-one cars parked there bore out-of-state plates.

Colby junior Cam Drew, 20, of Plymouth, Massachusetts, was walking to his car, which was parked in the lot. Drew said the only time he parks there is if he has to make a quick stop and go back to campus. Otherwise, he said, he usually parks at Head of Falls or takes the shuttle to and from the campus.

“This is two-hour parking, so I kind of respect that,” he said.

Drew said Colby officials encourage the students to park at the Appleton lot, Head of Falls or the Mayflower Hill campus and had a significant discussion with students when the school year started.

A PARKING ENFORCEMENT EMPLOYEE

Meanwhile, Massey said Monday that Colby’s $10,000 will enable him to hire a part-time parking enforcement person.

Massey surveyed several towns including Augusta, Lewiston, Auburn, Bangor, Bath and Biddeford, and all but one had either a full-time parking enforcement employee or a part-timer.

“That’s important so they can provide a very sustainable level of parking enforcement that lets people know that there is parking enforcement, and if they violate parking ordinances, they’ll likely receive a parking ticket for doing that,” he said.

He said having an employee focused on enforcement will “help tremendously.”

“My vision is not to increase the number of tickets we write but to try to get people to obey our parking ordinance by voluntary deterrence of compliance,” he said.

Waterville is a service center where the population more than doubles during the day when people come into the city to work, shop and do other activities.

“We are seeing a population during the day that is greater than what we’re staffed for because we are a small service center,” Massey said.

“I just don’t have the staff to take an officer off the road each day for two to four hours to do parking enforcement,” he said. “It’s just not an efficient use of that officer.”

Though he will have to work out a schedule for parking enforcement, he said he thinks the person would work about 20 hours a week.

“I think it’s going to make a huge difference, and a big part of this will be educating the community,” he said. “Hopefully, we can get a better turnover in the two-hour parking. I think that’s really key.”

He said about half of The Concourse is all-day parking and about half two-hour parking.

During the last snowstorm in Waterville, the city towed 25 vehicles, mostly from The Concourse, according to Massey.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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