Cars drive around the Cony Circle traffic rotary on Monday in Augusta. City councilors have temporarily banned new businesses that would increase traffic volume at circles. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — City councilors have put a temporary ban in place on any new businesses that would increase traffic volume at circles, which  already lead the state with the most annual crashes, in response to safety concerns raised about a recent inquiry to open a coffee shop.

The moratorium, adopted as an emergency measure by the City Council last week, prohibits new businesses with entrances onto either Memorial or Cony traffic circles for 180 days. Councilors said they’re concerned about pedestrian and traffic safety at the city’s already-congested circles, which statistically have more annual crashes than any other intersections in the state of Maine.

The moratorium was prompted by city staff getting “serious inquiries” from the potential buyer of a Cony Circle site that is currently home to New Dimensions Federal Credit Union, whose potential new uses under consideration for the site include a coffee shop.

“That would be a use of very high-traffic volume into and out of the site, that would create a significant hazard with respect to traffic entering back onto Cony Circle,” said Director of Development Services Matt Nazar. “And would also create a serious pedestrian safety hazard for crosswalks that are right there at the same location. And if you have a use that is using the drive-thru, it could quickly stack out onto Memorial Drive and create serious traffic safety issues on Memorial Drive as you exit Cony Circle.”

Most years, Cony and Memorial circles in Augusta have more motor vehicle crashes than any other intersections in the state. In 2021, according to state Department of Transportation data, there were 162 crashes at Cony Circle and 154 at Memorial Circle, with the next closest intersection being  a roundabout in Sanford that was a distant third at 101 crashes. And so far in 2022 that trend has continued, with Cony Circle remaining the Maine intersection with the most crashes, 136, and Memorial Circle the second-most, at 134.

“That particular location is a real challenge, if you come up and turn right from Cony, it’s going to be a nightmare, so I think we need to move quickly,” said Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind, who made a motion to waive the normally-required second reading of the moratorium at councilors’ July 14 meeting. “We’re not saying ‘no,’ we’re just saying, ‘pause.’ Bangor Street (which comes off Cony Circle) is bad enough. We don’t need to add any more problems for people walking and driving over there.”


Nazar said without the moratorium a coffee shop and other uses the potential buyer expressed interest in locating there could move into the spot with no review by the Planning Board, because those are allowed uses under city zoning, largely requiring only a building permit.

“Right now as it stands it could go in tomorrow morning, and we’d have no way to have any input at all onto the plan or what the traffic volume would be or what goes there,” said Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti. “This would prevent them from being able to put it in tomorrow without some kind of input from neighbors, input from the city.”

The moratorium only applies to new businesses with entrances onto either of those two circles which would increase traffic volumes. Nazar said if a business similar to the credit union there now, or other business with similar estimated traffic volumes to what’s there now, would be able to open as it would not be covered by the moratorium. Existing businesses would also not be impacted by the moratorium.

Officials said the moratorium is meant to give officials time to consider changes to city’s code of ordinances to address potential safety concerns with higher traffic at the site and ensure that access to the sites could be provided safely and be regulated. That review would involve the Planning Board and, if ordinance changes are proposed, action by the City Council as well.

Some councilors said the city shouldn’t stifle business development but does need to make sure a new business that might locate there would not create a dangerous situation.

“I don’t necessarily want to inhibit a business from relocating to that site, but what I’m understanding, for the city, is there is obviously a need,” to study safety at the site, said At-Large Councilor Raegan LaRochelle. “Because of course we all know how precarious the rotaries can be.”

Nazar said the credit union is currently only operating an ATM machine, not a full branch, at the Cony Circle site. Memorial Circle also has at least one business parking lot, used by multiple businesses including a car rental business, with access directly onto the circle.

Nazar said his office has not received any plans or formal proposals for businesses with direct access to either circle, but a potential buyer called and indicated a number of potential uses, including a coffee shop, could be considered for the Cony Circle site.

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