HALLOWELL — Residents of Hallowell have their priorities: They want officials to improve the diversity of downtown businesses, improve infrastructure and enhance outdoor recreation.

John Bastey, vice president of Vision Hallowell, speaks Thursday night during a Zoom Community Conversation. Participants discussed short- and long-term goals for the city. Image capture

Those were the topics raised Thursday night during a Zoom Community Conversation, organized by a group of Hallowell organizations seeking residents’ input.

Among those who ran the forum: The city’s Comprehensive Planning Group, Vision Hallowell, Hallowell’s Community Heart & Soul planning group, Hallowell All-Age Friendly Committee and the Hubbard Free Library.

After a short introduction, participants were divided into groups to discuss questions pertaining to short- and long-term goals for the city ahead of Election Day, which will see new city councilors and a new mayor elected.

During one of the group sessions, Judy Feinstein, a member of the city’s Planning Board, said she had heard some city residents want more diverse businesses on Water Street, aside from the places to get food and drink. That sentiment was echoed by other residents, who said craft stores and other retailers would be welcome.

There was a real strong feeling that people wanted a downtown that had more than a dozen places to pick from to have a beer and a burger, to put it nicely,” Feinstein said. “The question that comes into my mind is, ‘What else does downtown have to offer?'”

Ryan Gordon, a Greenville Street resident, said he would like the city’s downtown to be more “family friendly” and safer for pedestrians. He said he rarely travels downtown with his family because the heavy traffic makes it unsafe for pedestrians.

Gordon said that problem also expands into the residential areas of the city, where cars are also “zooming through.”

It feels like a really dangerous place with traffic that feels too fast to bring a family there,” he said, advocating for better sidewalks, fewer cars and slower traffic through town. “The physical way people move about is very important.”

Matt Bear-Fowler, a Hallowell resident who said he uses a wheelchair to get around, said there are some businesses he and his family cannot patronize because they only have steps. He said that is another area where the city could improve.

There’s just so much that does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards,” Bear-Fowler said. “It’s too bad because it excludes a lot of people.”

Resident Judith Graber said the city should also look into the effects of climate change, because Water Street’s proximity to the Kennebec River makes it prone to flooding. Further, she supported the pocket park concept at the corner of Water and Central streets, and the larger concept of adding more green space to the city’s downtown.

Related to “green” concerns and initiatives, Gordon said he is a member of Hallowell’s newly formed committee dealing with solar power, which has a goal of getting 80% of the city’s households on solar energy.

Other groups discussed an emphasis on buying locally and hosting more outdoor events as short-term strategies to bolster downtown Hallowell.

Other goals included continuing the Kennebec River Rail Trail through the city, and getting grants to clean the facades of  downtown buildings.

For the long term, goals included affordable housing and better connecting Hallowell’s outer neighborhoods with downtown.

City Councilor George Lapointe, a candidate for mayor, said he was “pleased with the focus on making the Hallowell portion of the rail trail more user friendly, the discussion on multigenerational events to draw people to town and the mention of a structured approach to economic development in Hallowell.”

Lapointe’s opponent in the mayoral race, City Councilor Maureen AuCoin, who said she helped plan the event through work with both Comprehensive Planning Group and the Hallowell Heart & Soul project, said the forum echoed repeated calls for economic development and infrastructure maintenance in Hallowell.

She said she has already begun working on making the city more walkable.

“Recently, as the chair of the Highway Committee, I was successful in facilitating a plan for the city of Hallowell and DOT (Maine Department of Transportation) to address the need for a crosswalk near Stevens Commons,” she said. “This is a step towards the walkability and interconnectivity of neighborhoods that folks seem to be asking for.”

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