WATERVILLE — Longstanding plans to change the downtown traffic pattern from one-way to two-way roads are moving ahead, with a state official who will help administer a federal $7.37 million grant saying input from the public will be welcomed.

Ernie Martin, senior project engineer for the state Department of Transportation’s Highway Program, which is managing the project, told the City Council on Tuesday night that an open house will be held later this month where draft plans of the project will be presented publicly. The meeting is scheduled for from 4 to 6 p.m. June 26 in the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.

Business and property owners and others may come and ask questions or air concerns, according to Martin. Notifications will be sent to everyone within the project limits, he said.

“It’s a fact-finding mission, in my book,” Martin said.

Ernie Martin

The BUILD grant application, available on the city’s website, is focused on the concept of safety and mobility, he said. Martin said he will have more information for the public on June 26 and people may sign up for email updates on the project.

City Manager Michael Roy said public hearings will be held on the BUILD grant, which is possible through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

“This is going to happen, and I think it’s going to be a great improvement all around,” Roy said.

Work to change to two-way traffic from one-way on Main and Front streets will start in the summer of 2021, but the Kennebec Water District plans to remove and replace old water mains downtown in the summer of 2020. That work is not part of the BUILD grant program work.

Roger Crouse, general manager of the water district, told the council Tuesday the pipes have not been replaced in about 100 years. The project area will include Main, Common, Temple, Appleton, Hathaway and Front streets. He said the design work for the project is starting now and the Water District is working with transportation department and also will be at the open house on June 26. The design work will take place from now until the end of December and the project will be put out to bid in December or January, according to Crouse. He said the goal is to complete it in 2020, but it possibly will run into 2021.

Brian Lawrence, of the federal highway Maine division, said his department received approval in March to start spending money on the BUILD grant design, and now officials are finishing a draft. Plans must go through several avenues, including the U.S. transportation secretary, and he submitted that yesterday, he said.

“The wheels should be rolling at this point,” Lawrence said.

Traffic moves in one direction Wednesday on Front Street in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Researching the feasibility of having two-way traffic on Front and Main streets has been talked about for several years amid downtown revitalization discussions spearheaded by Colby College and the city. The discussions come following the completion of a landmark new mixed-use residential complex on Main Street downtown, called the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons, and with construction slated to start this summer on Colby’s Lockwood Hotel at the other end of the street downtown.

Some people have raised concern about losing public parking spaces with the change to two-way traffic. But supporters say there will still be plenty of parking options downtown, and that the change will help slow traffic; make the area safer for drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists; and encourage people to stop, shop, eat and recreate downtown.

In other matters Tuesday night, the council voted 7-0 to finalize a request by Golden Pond Wealth Management to change the zoning ordinance to allow the business to expand.

The Waterville City Council gave initial approval Tuesday to a zoning change that would allow Golden Pond Wealth Management, on Silver Street in Waterville, expand its building. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

Golden Pond, located at 129 Silver St., plans to expand its 3,000-square-foot building on the Wilson Park side by about 2,000 square feet, but Wilson Park residents maintain that while Golden Pond is a good neighbor, they are concerned about an expansion, which would be visible from Wilson Park, and the building would be vulnerable being occupied by a large business if Golden Pond ever sells it.

Councilors voted 7-0 to change some language in the proposal, including that the office shall have no entrance or exit from Wilson Park, that employees and clients will use the driveway on Silver Street and that plants and other screening will be installed to shield the building from view and discourage employees from parking on Wilson Park.

“I think this is really a great compromise for Golden Pond and the residents that abut this property,” said Council Chairman Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4.

Gail Carlson, of Wilson Park, said she and her neighbors oppose the change. She disagreed with Mayhew’s assessment.

“Actually, we don’t benefit. We lose,” Carlson said. “We are losers in this.”

The Planning Board on May 6 voted 4-0 to recommend that the council approve a change to the definition of “professional office” in the ordinance to include financial services. The council took a final, 7-0 vote Tuesday to approve the change.

In other matters, councilors voted 7-0 to ratify a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the National Fraternal Order of Police for the Waterville patrol officers, including about 20 officers and detectives. They will receive a 3% increase in pay, with changes to their health insurance that will include a less costly plan for the city and employees.

The council also voted 7-0 to contract with CES Inc. for engineering services for $31,500 for redesigning The Concourse parking lot downtown. Colby College will fund the engineering work.

Councilors voted 7-0 to change the city’s electronic communications and file retention policy to say all official city communication will be conducted through email accounts provided by the city’s Information Technology Department.

They also voted 7-0 to approve food, liquor and special amusement licenses to Itali-ah, doing business as Lion’s Den Tavern, at 74 Main St.; 7-0 to sell 15 South Grove St. to Kirk Boucher for $3,137; and 7-0 to amend the city’s licenses and permits ordinance to include a reference to the seasonal concession policy.

During the community notes section of the meeting, resident Cathy Weeks urged the council to make reductions in the proposed municipal budget.

“Waterville taxpayers can not endure another tax increase,” she said.

 

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