HALLOWELL — A city park that was temporary this summer is moving closer to becoming a permanent fixture downtown.

Hallowell officials and residents got a look at preliminary design concepts last week, while Vision Hallowell formally recommended building the park at the corner of Central and Water streets. What is undecided is whether the park will fill the entire small lot, or if space will remain for parking.

That parcel of land is city-owned and currently used as a parking lot with six spaces.

Volunteers for Vision Hallowell, a group that supports the city’s downtown businesses, set up a temporary park at that location this summer, with a picnic table, plants and chairs. With the park in place, a survey was circulated to community groups and via a scannable QR code at the park.

Of the 283 respondents, about 73% favored a park of some size and 37% supported using the entire lot. About 21% of respondents wanted the park paved for use as a parking lot.

A meeting also was conducted last week to gather information from people with interest in the park. At that meeting Camden architect Rosie Curtis, who designed the city’s new fire station on Coos Lane, and civil engineer Maureen McGlone presented three options for the lot.

City Manager Nate Rudy said a bill has not yet been received for the design work, but it would be paid for through a Brownfields grant.

Prior to that meeting, Frank O’Hara, a resident who serves on the city’s Parking Committee, noted issues previously raised about the park. Among them were an adequate amount of lighting and handicap parking, use of granite in the park, focusing seating toward Water Street and the potential inclusion of a small performance space.

A preliminary design for a proposed pocket park at the corner of Central Street and Water Street in Hallowell. Image courtesy of the City of Hallowell

A park-only design included five semicircle benches set on bricks, with ramp and stair access from the Central Street parking lot and stairs near Berry and Berry Floral. A small retaining fence would be along the outside barriers of the park, with some benches on the perimeter. A fountain, moved from City Hall, could be placed in the park. Three plants were shown in the design, though others could also be added elsewhere in the park.

This option would be raised about 2 feet from current ground level, Curtis said, because the pitch is steep and could cause problems for people with limited mobility. Mayor-elect George Lapointe said it may be possible to change the pitch of the entire park so steps may not be necessary.

City Councilor-elect Berkeley Almand-Hunter liked the retaining walls because she said it made it so children couldn’t walk out of the park and into traffic.Vision Hallowell representative Deb Fahy said she would have liked to see more green space in the design, but liked the design of the benches.

A preliminary design for a proposed parking lot at the corner of Central Street and Water Street in Hallowell. Image courtesy of the City of Hallowell

A parking-focused design kept the ramp from the Central Street lot, but accommodated four parking spaces along the Berry and Berry Floral building. That lot would be accessed from Central Street, and would allow cars to pull out, reorient and enter the road without backing into traffic. That design also included a bench near Berry and Berry Floral’s entrance, with plants near the ramp and bench.

Fahy said she hated the design because it seemed like space in front of the parking spots was wasted.

A preliminary design for a proposed pocket park, with some parking, at the corner of Central Street and Water Street in Hallowell. Image courtesy of the City of Hallowell

The final design option offered a park and parking, with four semicircle benches and one parallel parking spot large enough for a van on the Central Street side. It would move the fountain toward the corner of Water and Central streets, and include the ramp and stairs.

Future meetings are being planned to pare down the design options.

All three drew criticism for handicap accessibility issues. Resident John Bastey said he would like the park be “step-free,” so no one in a wheelchair would have to navigate a set of stairs.

Park critics were largely absent from the meeting. Most outspoken has been Aurilla Holt, owner of Berry and Berry Floral. She said the park reduces much needed downtown parking. And Merrill’s Bookshop owner John Merrill said it is 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.

Hallowell’s parking — or its perceived lack thereof — has been a longtime topic of discussion. In June, a report from the city’s Comprehensive Plan Committee stated Hallowell had “a reasonable amount” of downtown parking, with 225 on-street parking spaces and another 20 at the new lot on Central Street.

The city has recently formed a committee to study the parking issue, which Lapointe said will also give a recommendation about the park. He said the City Council would consider the committee’s recommendation, along with project and maintenance cost estimates, when making a decision about the park.

“I like the idea of a park at the site, but remained concerned about impacts on handicapped parking and access, regular parking, and project costs,” Lapointe said in an email. “So, there’s information needed before the council makes a decision on this issue.”

He expects that information to be presented at the February meeting of the City Council.

City Councilor Diana Scully said Tuesday that she supported a park on at least some of the property. Scully, who lives on Mayflower Road, said people from all over the city would “benefit from the pocket park.”

“I haven’t heard from anyone living in Ward 3 who views this as just a downtown amenity,” she said.

But resident Jon Phillips, who lives on Hillcrest Street, said he didn’t “feel like it’s necessary” to have a park in the middle of town between the state boat landing and Granite City Park.

“They made kind of a park up the street from Boynton’s a while back,” he said, “but no one really uses it.”

Phillips, who said he is friends with Holt, said he used to deliver plants there and couldn’t image parking further from the establishment. He said a small strip of benches and a walkway for the parking lot to be accessed would be a better idea for the space.

“I’d rather see money put into other things,” he said, adding tax increment financing or private donations should be used to pay for the park, rather than tax dollars.

Phillips also said he saw a park morphing into a place where visitors to downtown businesses go to smoke cigarettes, citing the old Dummers Lane as a case study in that phenomenon. That alley is now an outdoor seating setup for the Liberal Cup.

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