People stand around in a circle during a meeting July 28 about a planned pocket park at the corner of Central and Water streets in downtown Hallowell. The city owned lot on the busy corner is currently used for parking. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — Visitors to downtown Hallowell and city residents will get a preview of a proposed pocket park on the corner of Central Street and Water Street later this month.

In July, the City Council approved a test-run of a park on city land which is now used as a parking lot. The project is being pushed by Vision Hallowell, a nonprofit group that promotes downtown. Initial plans for the park called for it to be about 30 feet by 40 feet. In a new plan, that has been reduced to about 10 feet by 40 feet. 

Deborah Fahy, secretary for Vision Hallowell, said Thursday that the group’s members reduced the scope of the temporary park after hearing resistance to losing some of the six parking spots in the lot.

She said the temporary park will occupy the width of one parking space, pushing the handicap space back into the lot and reducing the amount of spaces to five.

Fahy said construction of mini-park will begin Aug. 22. Last month, Fahy said Home Depot may sponsor the park, and provide some furniture and plants, but details about that were not available Thursday.

The park will also feature Hallowell’s iconic brightly colored Adirondack chairs, faux-grass mats and games.

The proposed design of the temporary mini-park at the corner of Water Street and Central Street. Image courtesy of Cary Colwell

The proposed plan was crafted by Cary Colwell, who mentioned in an email that the group could use an unwanted fence on a property owned by Andy Molloy. Molloy is a photographer for the Kennebec Journal.

The fence was put on Molloy’s property during the reconstruction of Water Street by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Rudy said he hoped the fence was not moved, and if it was, the transportation department would have to sign off on it, even though the fence is city-owned.

“As I understand it is required by MDOT for pedestrian safety and is in the MDOT right of way,” he said. “If it is moved, there may be consequences for the involved parties.”

Fahy said the park will be similar to mini-parks made in parking spaces as part of “Parking Day,” an annual event in some municipalities where single parking spaces are made into small parks.

If the project is seen through, it would be the second small park in the space of a city block, as there is a small park at the corner of Second Street and Union Street.

An unmarked small city park on July 30 at the corner of Union and Second streets in Hallowell. It is about a block away from a planned new pocket park at Water and Central streets. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

When asked why a new park should be built instead of improving a relatively underutilized park, Fahy said the proposed location is more visible for visitors and provides a sunnier, more entertaining location that will benefit downtown businesses.

“There have been studies on why different parks in different cities work and don’t,” she said. “Basically, people like people watching; they like to be in an active place.”

Fahy said the city’s Conservation Commission is looking into branding the city’s green space better and thought the Second Street park would be part of those plans.

“I do think the city should promote (the Second Street park) more and make it nice, but it’s going to be more like a quiet place to go with kids,” she said. “The more touristy meeting place is exactly what the parking lot we are proposing will provide.”

Rosemary Presnar, chairperson of the Conservation Commission, said the Second Street park is a “hidden gem” that is maintained by its neighbors.

“I think it’s fitting its need for a neighborhood green space,” she said. “I don’t think we need to advertise it as a destination.”

Presnar said the commission supported Vision Hallowell’s goal of providing a place to sit in the middle of downtown, when the distance between two downtown green spaces, Granite City Park and the state boat landing, is about a mile.

“There is not a place to sit down in the shade,” she said. “Even in malls, there’s always some flowers, some shade and some chairs for people to sit.”

The most outspoken critic of the mini-park project is Aurilla Holt, co-owner of Berry and Berry Floral, which is right next to the proposed park. In late July, Holt said that when she and her husband rented the building they did because of the lot. She said her customers often use the lot to pop in quickly and her delivery drivers also stock vehicles quickly in the lot. Holt proposed placing games at Granite City Park or lining Water Street with benches as alternatives to a park.

Parking, or lack thereof, has been a heated topic of discussion in Hallowell for many years. In June, a document released by the city’s Comprehensive Plan Committee addressed transportation within the city, saying Hallowell had “a reasonable amount” of parking downtown with 225 on-street parking spaces and another 20 at the new lot on Central Street.

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 posts, and native grasses and trees. Another proposed design divides the lot in half and retains some parking.

Fahy said Thursday that it was too early in the process to discuss financial details, but Vision Hallowell would only be able to fund “short-term temporary” items for the park and the city would have to “take the lead” to build a “nice park that is going to last.”

When asked if the park was a good idea going into a tight budget year with consequences from the coronavirus pandemic, she said the park is not “imminent” and there will be a survey in the future which will test the viability of the park.

City Councilor Michael Frett said in July that 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.

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

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