A bicyclist passes last week in front of the fire escape attached to Cancun Mexican Bar & Grill, left, that has enabled downtown revelers to access the rooftop of John Fortier’s State Farm Insurance building, right, at 16 Silver St. in downtown Waterville. Drug deals and public urination and defecation have reportedly taken place in the alley next to the State Farm building, according to Fortier. Fortier said he has documented the activity on six motion-activated cameras he had installed at his building, overlooking the alley next to the restaurant. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — Officials in Waterville are working to solve two problems facing downtown business owner John Fortier: Unsavory activities reportedly happening late at night in the alleyway next to his insurance business on Silver Street, and the City Council’s recent decision to close part of the street to allow outdoor dining from April 1 to Nov. 1, 2021.

Fortier told the City Council on Oct. 20 that people urinate, defecate, consume alcohol, fight and sell drugs in the alley between his business and Cancun Mexican Bar & Grill.

As part of a separate issue, councilors voted 5-1 that night to close part of Silver Street and Merchant’s Way next year, a decision Fortier said boxes in his business and makes it difficult for clients, particularly older people, to find parking next to his office.

He said the closure hurts the value of his property and is not fair to downtown businesses that are not restaurants.

Fortier met Thursday with Mayor Nick Isgro, police Chief Joseph Massey, City Council Chairman Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, and Councilor Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, about the issues.

Francke represents much of the downtown, including the location of Fortier’s business, and was the lone dissenter in the 5-1 vote Oct. 20.

Fortier said he attended the council meeting Oct. 20 mostly to urge councilors not to approve a request to close part of Silver Street and Merchant’s Way next year from April 1 to Nov. 1. He said while he supports the concept of outdoor dining, he objected to the fact he learned only 24 hours before the meeting that councilors were going to vote on the street closures.

Fortier said he and other business owners were not notified of the impending vote. He also said the street closures affect more than just restaurants, and he and other business owners should have been allowed input.

The council voted earlier in the year to close part of Silver Street and Merchant’s Way to help restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic that were prohibited from having indoor dining.

Fortier said the situation with the coronavirus is no longer an emergency because indoor dining is now allowed. He also said it was too early for councilors to vote on closing the streets next year because no one knows what the COVID-19 situation will be in 2021. Restaurant owners, however, argued they need time now to plan for outdoor dining.

Fortier said this week he asked Isgro to veto the council vote to close the streets next year, but instead, a decision was made to introduce to the council, possibly as early as Wednesday, a resolution that essentially amends the earlier resolution.

The resolution would offer a solution other than closing Silver Street at Main Street, according to Fortier. The decision to close part of Merchant’s Way would not be affected by the newer resolution, he said.

“That was the solution to not vetoing,” Fortier said after Thursday’s meeting. “It just carves out the Silver Street part of it.”

Isgro did not respond to requests for comment this week, but an email he sent to Fortier before Thursday’s meeting supported the idea of introducing another resolution that revisits the street-closure issue.

“I had a long conversation with Erik Thomas and we both seem to agree on the solution to move forward to address your concerns for Silver Street,” Isgro’s email read.

“Rather than veto the entire resolution and all of the other streets that don’t have city owned outdoor dining, we would rather place a new item on the agenda for the next meeting to address Silver Street specifically. This will give you, Charlie, and anyone else that has concerns regarding the closure of Silver Street an opportunity to be heard and the council another opportunity to vote on this specific area.”

Charlie is Charlie Giguere, owner of Silver Street Tavern & Restaurant, who had asked for the Silver Street closure.

Francke said after Thursday’s meeting that when the city closed part of Silver Street and Merchant’s Way earlier this year for outdoor dining, it was as an emergency measure taken because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“But if we’re going to make long-term changes,” he said, “then we shouldn’t do it on an emergency basis.”

Francke said the $11.92 million BUILD project to change the traffic pattern and make intersection and other improvements will occur next year, and no firm agreement has been made on long-term parking at The Concourse. Those issues should be taken into consideration before making decisions about closing streets long term, according to Francke.

Like Fortier, Francke said such decisions affect other businesses, not only restaurants.

“I really just don’t think the council has thought through any of these other issues,” Francke said. “Let’s have a more general conversation and see what’s the best for everybody.”

Francke also noted many things can happen between now and April, and the city will have a new mayor, at least one new city councilor and a new city manager in January.

Fortier said he thought everyone at the meeting heard and understood his concerns about both problems, and he believed the city will find solutions to the alleyway issue.

“They absolutely heard me and told me that things are going to change,” he said.

Massey said he was at the meeting for about a half-hour to discuss the alleyway issue. He said he thought Thursday’s meeting was productive.

“We are going to provide the same level of patrol in that area as we have been doing for quite some time,” Massey said. “I think the onset of cold weather coming will help resolve some of those issues. As I’ve said, we have a presence in the downtown area.

“The downtown area is a very busy place in the evening hours. It has been an increased presence between 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., 1:30 a.m. We hope that our presence deters some of that disruptive behavior, and I think it has.”

Fortier said he hoped other downtown business owners will contact him or their city councilors because the issues at hand, such as the closing streets, represent long-term planning issues that affect existing businesses and new ventures that might come to the city.

“It’s important for the entire downtown community to thrive, not just the restaurants,” he said.

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