A rendering of the Parking Committee’s recommended design for a proposed pocket park at the corner of Water and Central streets in downtown Hallowell. Courtesy of the city of Hallowell

HALLOWELL — A city committee has recommended a design for a proposed park at the corner of Central and Water Streets that would use half of the location for parking.

The Parking Committee, formed in July by former Mayor Mark Walker, discussed its recommendations last Monday at a Zoom meeting of the City Council.

The committee also issued a number of other parking-related recommendations in a report provided to councilors ahead of the meeting.

The pocket park, initially suggested in 2016 before the Water Street reconstruction was revived in 2020 by Vision Hallowell, a group promoting the city’s downtown. In August, the group built a temporary park at the location, which is now a small parking lot with about six spots, and issued a survey to solicit feedback from residents.

Neighboring business owner Aurilla Holt of Berry & Berry Floral at 121 Water St. criticized the plan, thinking a park would eliminate much-needed parking at the lot.

After the pocket park was removed, a survey found more than 70% of respondents wanted some sort of park at the site, with 37% wanting the whole lot to be a park.

Designs from Rosie Curtis Architects of Camden and Maureen McGlone of Ransom Consulting Engineers and Scientists, which has offices throughout the northeast, were considered, with the ultimate design presented to the City Council being recommended by the Parking Committee.

A rendering of the Parking Committee’s recommended design for a proposed pocket park at the corner of Water and Central streets in downtown Hallowell. Courtesy of the city of Hallowell

The selected design uses half of the lot facing Water Street as a park, with a ramp running along the Berry & Berry buildings to a small parking lot, with two parking spaces separated from the park by a retaining wall.

Designs show trees and foliage at the park, with a fountain and benches. According to the report, the park was designed to be accessible to toddlers and people in wheelchairs.

Curtis said the park would be at street level, and the parking spaces would be about 2 feet higher than the park.

“This was the end result from everybody’s very careful thinking about the process,” Curtis said.

The report shows construction of the park would cost between $150,000 and $200,000, depending on materials used and hikes in costs. McGlone said certain costs could be deferred.

“You could add a few more benches later down the road,” McGlone said. “You could put the fence up later and maybe save yourself a little bit of money.”

A sketch of the Parking Committee’s recommended design for a proposed pocket park at the corner of Water and Central streets in downtown Hallowell. Courtesy of the city of Hallowell

The Planning Board would need to approve of the design because the changes would affect the city’s historic district, and funding for the project would likely need approval from the City Council.

The report was accepted last Monday, but that does not assure a park will be built at the location.

City Councilor Peter Spiegel said he was opposed to the Japanese maple trees used in the design, preferring to use native species.

“As someone who is pretty committed to conservation and using as many native species as possible,” he said, “I am hoping that we could find other suitable things that would really illustrate the beauty of some of our trees we have in central Maine.”

Curtis said the trees were an aesthetic choice, based on size and color, but other species, including hawthorns and dogwoods, could be used.

“There’s a lot of them in Hallowell,” she said. “I know they grow well and they’re about the right size.”

Frank O’Hara, co-chair of the Parking Committee, said many members of the committee wanted to use the full lot as a park at the beginning of the process, but have warmed to the eventual recommendation.

Councilor Patrick Wynne asked if the old designs, which included a design for a full park at the lot, could still be used in public conversation about plans for the lot. Curtis said the designs still exist, but the recommended design was the result of “a fairly extensive process of collaboration with the committee.”

Resident Ryan Gordon said he supported a park utilizing the full lot. He also said he supported more bicycle parking and handicapped parking in the existing Central Street parking lot.

OTHER COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS

Along with the recommendation of a park design, the Parking Committee also issued a number of recommendations on parking-related issues in town.

The committee looked into the possibility of renting or leasing parking spaces at the former Public Utilities Commission building on Second Street and potentially reestablishing parking along the railroad, like what was done during the Water Street reconstruction.

The committee recommended against renting or leasing parking at the former PUC building, with the report reading that “the demand for public spaces currently doesn’t exist” downtown.

The report states 20 more parking spaces exist downtown today than before the Water Street reconstruction project. The report also shows the COVID-19 pandemic might be affecting need for parking, and that while an increase could be coming, it would only be for a few hours during the week.

The report said the committee could revisit the need for downtown parking if more stores or other businesses open, creating need for additional parking.

The committee also recommended the city research the ownership of the railroad through Hallowell, and seek to use parts of it for temporary parking or a trail-related purpose.

According to the report, Bob Stubbs, a member of the committee, found documentation from a town meeting in 1848 that “Hallowell discontinued the use of Third Street and gave permission to the Portland and Kennebec Railroad to use that strip of land for railroad purposes.” That could mean the land was not deeded to the state and the city might still own the land.

The committee recommended the City Council encourage the state to relocate parking at the boat landing at the south end of downtown by buying a nearby lot, rather than introducing more pavement.

The committee also recommended expanding access to downtown parking and activities for people with disabilities, including:

• Using a website to identify parking spaces for handicapped people.

• Adding “hybrid” parking spaces for delivery vehicles and vehicles carrying people with disabilities.

• Locating parking spaces next to crosswalks, with curb cuts, that could be used by people with disabilities.

• Keeping a handicapped parking space at the pocket park.

• Redirecting discussion about access to the downtown area to the city’s IDEA Task Force, with IDEA standing for inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

The committee also recommended more signs and “understandable and enforceable” parking rules.

Councilor Michael Frett, who co-chaired the Parking Committee, said the committee’s work is complete now that the report has been issued.

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