Skowhegan officials have begun reconsidering requirements for parking in the downtown area as more development, including apartments on upper floors, is anticipated. Morning Sentinel file

SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Planning Board has begun to reevaluate its requirements for downtown businesses to provide off-street parking as officials anticipate new development, even as a study has found the town currently has sufficient parking.

The town’s planning staff is expected to soon begin examining how it determines the amount of parking a development must provide, the possibility of charging developers a fee if they cannot provide the required number of parking spaces and the town’s ability to acquire new lots for municipal parking.

The board is expected to take up the matters in the coming months.

The discussion came as the board reviewed the results Tuesday of a parking study commissioned as part of the town’s participation in the Maine Department of Transportation’s Village Partnership Initiative, or VPI, which is considering several transportation improvements in downtown Skowhegan, including construction of a second bridge over the Kennebec River. Parking plays a role in the initiative’s larger transportation planning, officials said.

The study, conducted by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc., a civil engineering consulting and design firm headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts, concluded Skowhegan does not have a parking problem.

Looking at about 350 on- and off-street parking spaces in downtown Skowhegan, the study found they are generally underused. Parking at the most-used lot — the riverside parking lot that runs parallel to Water Street — peaked at 80% occupancy during the summer months, while year-round parking rates at the other lots were largely less than 50%.


The study concluded that parking in the downtown area could be reduced.

Several Planning Board members were skeptical of the data used in the study, which was described as having been collected on a weekday in February 2023 and one in August 2023, both from noon to 8 p.m.

“This study is based on very, very few hours of data,” Andrew Thorpe, a Planning Board member, said. “It makes a huge difference for what’s going on in the town, whether there’s a special event going on the day of the data.”

Most Planning Board members agreed that parking could become a problem, and the town needs to reexamine and clarify its requirements of businesses to provide parking.

Skowhegan’s Site Plan Review Ordinance requires new developments of a certain size to demonstrate they will provide sufficient off-street parking.

The required number of parking spots depends on the type of development and is often highly specific. In Skowhegan, for example, overnight accommodations require one parking space per room, fast-food restaurants require six parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of gross floor area and bowling alleys require four parking spaces per lane.


Developers could reach an agreement with the Planning Board to use municipal parking lots, which has happened with some recent developments in the downtown area, including the Spinning Mill at 7 Island Ave.

The ordinance also allows the town to charge a developer a fee in lieu of providing parking. Town officials, however, said that has not been done in recent memory.

Those alternatives are not explained in detail in the ordinance.

Joel Greenwood, a Kennebec Valley Council of Governments planner who is the contract planner for Skowhegan, urged the Planning Board to consider clarifying and strengthening the ordinance because Skowhegan expects more downtown development, including residential units on upper floors of downtown buildings on lots that lack space for parking.

“Because of the nature of the size of the lots in town, they’re just not going to be able to (provide on-site parking),” Greenwood said. “We have this kind of vague thing that says you are able to utilize municipal parking lots, and obviously there’s been absolutely legitimate concern that that’s not sustainable.”

Planning Board member Harvey Austin questioned any use of municipal lots for developments’ parking allocations, given some technically do not allow overnight parking, a problem during winter months.


“In the middle of winter, where are you going to park?” Austin said of new residential units downtown. “These residential people, they’re not going to be moving out of the house, driving around town at 2 o’clock in the morning. They’re going to park their car.”

As for charging fees for developers who cannot provide sufficient parking on-site, Code Enforcement Officer Bryan Belliveau said Skowhegan needs a mechanism to accept the funds. The money could be used for an account to address future parking issues, Belliveau said, including acquiring new lots.

“When we do start seeing issues with parking,” he said, “we’re going to have the money to say, ‘Let’s take care of this.'”

Town officials also need to consider how fees would apply to existing businesses. Greenwood said fees would apply to all developments, including those that have been in Skowhegan for years. Others disagreed, saying that would not be fair, and fees should only apply to new or expanded developments.

It is not clear yet how town officials would determine the fee for one business versus another, a question raised by Planning Board board member Randall Franck.

Officials must also decide how the town will determine the downtown area, or if separate rules are to be created for one part of the community.

Greenwood said parking improvements could involve other aspects, such as pedestrian infrastructure. The state’s Village Partnership Initiative is looking at several improvements, including better signs, crosswalks and sidewalks.

“We don’t necessarily have a parking problem,” Greenwood said. “It’s easier to make a community attractive for people to think: ‘I don’t necessarily have to park right outside where I want to go. Can I park on the other side of the road, or can I park in a municipal parking lot, and think it’s safe and easy to cross two lanes of one-way traffic?’ Do you have a pedestrian, safety or walking problem, or do you have parking problem?”

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