HALLOWELL — While a neighboring business owner opposes the idea, a mini-park could be coming to a small parking lot at the corner of Water and Central streets in downtown Hallowell.

The City Council unanimously approved a motion last Monday that gave Vision Hallowell, a nonprofit group that promotes downtown, permission to test a small park, also known as a pocket park, on the city-owned land. The plan calls for bringing in chairs, faux-grass mats and potted plants to test the project’s viability.

Aurilla Holt, owner of the neighboring business Berry & Berry Floral, has balked at the proposed park, saying the lot’s spaces are necessary for a downtown that is “struggling so for parking.”

The proposed design by urban planner Brian Kent for a pocket park at the corner of Central and Water streets in downtown Hallowell. Image courtesy of Deb Fahy

Deborah Fahy, chairperson of the Hallowell Arts and Cultural Committee and a volunteer overseeing the project for Vision Hallowell, said the temporary park’s design is scheduled for discussion Tuesday at a Vision Hallowell meeting. If the group moves ahead with the plan, the mini-park could be installed in August or September.

City Manager Nate Rudy said the city took ownership of the lot after trading land with Linda Bean, owner of the Dummer House, as part of the project that moved the house to Second Street.

The lot on which the Dummer House sat is now a dirt parking lot, just west of the parcel where the mini-park would go.

The mini-park concept was introduced to residents as part of the reconstruction of Water Street in 2016, when urban planner Brian Kent recommended bump-outs at crosswalks and intersections.

The bump-outs were a contentious issue in the planning phase of the project, but they and the mini-park never happened.

Kent’s design is still being used for the current talks. The design shows a 40-foot, circular sitting area with benches and chairs. It is contained by a 3-foot stone wall, and includes a granite sculpture, granite bollards and native grasses and trees.

Fahy said another proposed design divides the lot in half and retains some parking.

Fahy said the project could be funded through the tax increment financing district, but she did not have an estimate on the park’s cost.

City Councilor Michael Frett said the city’s Property and Public Lands Committee, which he chairs and also includes Councilors Diano Circo and Maureen Aucoin, supports Kent’s design and having a park at the location. He said the park would brighten downtown and offer senior citizens a place to rest while shopping.

Fahy said offering the temporary park is an example of “tactical urbanism,” which she described as short-term projects that could lead to long-term change.

During last Monday’s meeting, Councilor George Lapointe said he was concerned about losing parking spaces, a concern shared by Holt during a Wednesday interview. She described the proposed mini-park at the parking lot as a crazy thought.”

“We’ve got enough green space,” Holt said, citing Granite City Park to the north of downtown and the boat landing to the south. “To lose that parking lot is just crazy.”

Holt said parking is a constant battle for her customers, who she said often have to park on Second Street. Further, Holt said she worried about the maintenance of a park, considering previous issues with a lack of maintenance at the city’s dog park at Vaughn Field.

Rudy said the city does not have a particular position on the best outcome for the lot, but it would be good “to come up with some design” for it.

On Friday, five cars were parked at the lot at 1:30 p.m. as Rudy and Holt spoke near the lot. Holt said she was for some green space near her business, or benches installed down the sidewalk on Water Street, but did not support having a full park in the lot. She said the design proposed for the lot was “beautiful,” and there was a need to develop the lot in some way. 

Fahy, who is also a member of the Comprehensive Planning Group, said the need for parking in Hallowell is “overstated.” 

“I think there will be some people who are not too excited about the idea,” Fahy said. “They’re used to having the parking there. There’s no kind of gathering place for people to meet and sit and relax.”

Last month, a document released by the committee addressed transportation within the city, saying Hallowell had 225 on-street parking spaces and another 20 at the new lot on Central Street.

While parking always seems in short supply, that is a reasonable amount for a downtown of this size,” the document reads. “Providing additional parking may make driving downtown easier, but would also reduce the amount of land available for shops, housing and other uses that contribute economically and add to the attractiveness of downtown Hallowell.”

Rudy said the parcel has “traditionally been used as a parking area,” and the spots that may be lost with the construction of a park. He said he has heard some residents say there should be a resting place between Granite City Park and the boat landing, while others have said the city should preserve the downtown parking spaces.

“Until we had ideas presented and heard feedback from people, it would be premature to guess what the best outcome would be for the lot,” Rudy said. “The pilot pocket park will help people see what the potential is there for an open space. It will also raise questions for the best use of the property.”

Other business owners offered mixed opinions on the park. Kyle Ng, owner of Traverse Coffee, which is also near the intersection of Central Water streets, said he thought the pocket park idea was “really cool.” He said it would be a nice option for his customers, who can now sit inside his coffee shop or utilize a deck behind it.

“I think that would help to elevate the experience of people walking through (downtown Hallowell),” he said.

Former City Councilor Lynn Irish, who owns WhipperSnappers Quilt Studio, said she would be in favor of a small park with no impact on the amount of parking spaces.

“I think we’ve worked too hard to get parking (to lose any),” Irish said.

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