Volunteers set up a temporary mini park Aug. 22 at corner of Water and Central streets in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

HALLOWELL — Respondents to a survey say they would like a park to take over a parking lot in downtown Hallowell, though some are still concerned about parking.

The results of the study, which was provided directly to some Hallowell organizations as well as advertised at the park, were presented to the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting by representatives from Vision Hallowell, a nonprofit that promotes the city’s downtown which is spearheading the project.

The park was set up on Aug. 22 at the corner of Central and Water streets. The city owns that parcel of land and it was used as a parking lot with about six spaces. Last month, a small temporary park was placed at the site and it was taken down Tuesday after its pilot run.

Of the 283 respondents, about 37% favored using the entire lot as a park, with about 24% favoring using half of the lot for a park and half for parking. About 12% favored the smaller size of the temporary park that was at the location.

Deborah Fahy, a representative from Vision Hallowell, said the group will meet at a later date to process the findings and then will recommend an action to the City Council. She said some respondents may have responded twice, but she has not gone back and deleted those responses.

“You have to make sure they’re actually duplicates and it looks like there’s people on both sides doing it,” she said.

Fahy said Wednesday that the survey was spread by word-of-mouth by Vision Hallowell members and on numerous area Facebook pages and provided to other local organizations, like the Hubbard Free Library. The survey was also available by scanning a QR code on a sign at the park.

About 37% of survey respondents said they visit downtown Hallowell every day, while another 32% said they visit at least once a week. About 21% of respondents wanted the park paved for use as a parking lot.

Outspoken park critic Aurilla Holt, who owns Berry and Berry Floral that neighbors the proposed location, said the temporary park made it more difficult to get their deliveries loaded into vans and to customers.

“One of our delivery drivers is in his 80s and he had to park a couple of places up,” she said. “I’m not sad to see it go.”

“Easy, free parking” was a reason that 173 people, or 61% of respondents, listed for why they enjoy visiting other downtowns. On a different question, 67 people said more parking would draw them into Hallowell more often.

When asked if the scope of the parking problem in Hallowell is overstated, Holt said parking in Hallowell may be easier now that some businesses are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and many buildings are vacant.

“We’ve always struggled (for parking),” she said, adding that she and her husband have been in Hallowell for generations. “If the whole street was full (of businesses), … where do all of those people park? It’s not just about us.”

Parking, or lack thereof, has been a 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, stating Hallowell had “a reasonable amount” of parking downtown with 225 on-street parking spaces and another 20 at the new lot on Central Street. A committee was also formed recently to study the city’s parking and issue its findings. Those findings are due in December.

Local artist/art educator Hélène Farrar leads an outdoor sketching class Friday, Sept. 4, in a temporary mini park at corner of Water and Central streets in Hallowell. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

John Merrill, owner of Merrill’s Bookshop on Water Street, said he was conflicted about the park, as it pits the city’s need for parking against the benefit of parks. He said it was “a very bad year to make a decision for a permanent park,” as the number of visitors to the city’s downtown has been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is not a good test year for that because traffic is so much lower than it should be,” Merrill said. “If they were to take that whole space, I think that would be a problem.

He suggested putting a park in a portion of the former location of the Public Utilities Commission on Second Street, next to the Hubbard Free Library.

Holt criticized the survey as “one-sided,” noting that design drawings were provided for the full-park and half-size park concepts, but not for other options.

Merrill also said that a survey of Water Street business owners — who he believes should have a bigger say than residents on matters of downtown parking — may have produced a majority of dissent to a park. He said there has been tension in the past between downtown residents and business owners. Merrill said that business owners are not usually represented adequately in those matters.

Holt also said that the park would likely be empty in the winter and snow would pile up in the Central Street parking lot, just west of the proposed park location, and put additional strain on parking downtown.

City councilors voted Tuesday to accept a gift of two ornamental pots and two trees from Vision Hallowell and the Hallowell Area Board of Trade. One of those trees, a sugar maple tree, may be planted in Granite City Park in memory of Nancy Clement. Fahy said Clement was an avid photographer who would document the city’s nightlife and post the photos on social media.

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