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South Portland neighborhood debates 1-way traffic on Ocean Street

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South Portland neighborhood debates 1-way traffic on Ocean Street

SOUTH PORTLAND — Business owners, their customers and residents of the city's Knightville neighborhood are weighing the options: Make Ocean Street one-way, or lose coveted angled parking spots.

For many businesses, the answer is clear. 

"I love it," insurance agent Amy Alward, whose office is located near the drive-in parking spots, said about the one-way proposal.

A $2.9 million road project scheduled for this summer to widen sidewalks and replace utilities underneath Ocean Street originally called for the elimination of about 20 angled parking spots just north of the Legion Square traffic circle. The area wouldn't lose any parking, but all spots would have been made parallel.

But several business owners complained, saying that the elimination of the angled spots would make visiting their shops and offices less convenient and could drive customers away.

"If you take away that parking in a business district, you give people a reason to go elsewhere," Alward said Monday. 

So the city floated the idea of reconfiguring Ocean Street to be one way. That would allow for wider sidewalks and other cosmetic work, while maintaining the angled spots. 

At a recent City Council meeting, City Manager Jim Gailey said the plan as presented would be to make Ocean Street one way northbound from E Street to C Street, although "staff is also open to the entire length of Ocean Street to be one way, if that’s the will of the neighborhood and of the council."

Michael Drinan of Drinan Properties, which owns Alward's office building, led a drive to collect signatures from business owners and customers urging the city not to eliminate the angled parking. He told councilors on Feb. 22 that he supported the one-way reconfiguration of Ocean Street.

The council will discuss the plan and take public comment on March 12. The Waterfront Market Association is scheduled to discuss the proposal on March 2 at Verbena Eat Right cafe, 103 Ocean St.

Verbena's owner, Melissa Coriaty, said she'd rather not say where she stands on the one-way plan, but that she's heard "mumblings" from people both for and against it. 

"We're just happy the city is working with us," she said. "We hope we can come up with something that makes everyone happy."

Coriaty said the elimination of drive-in parking would affect a certain kind of customer, but by no means everyone.

"People would probably be less likely to get a quick cup of coffee if they have to parallel park a block away," she said. 

While most of the business owners with storefront access to the drive-in spots support the one-way plan as a way to preserve the easy parking, Knightville business owners are by no means unanimous.

Scott Parker, owner of the Griffin Club bar farther down Ocean Street, said he thinks the city should stick with its original plan, although he admitted he was partial because the original plan would create parallel parking where his business doesn't have any now.

His customers want to be able to leave whichever direction they want, he said. He also said delivery trucks may have a harder time navigating the area if the street is one way.

"It'd be a pain in the butt," Parker said. 

Members of the Knightville-Mill Creek Neighborhood Association also wonder what effect the plan would have on the area's largely residential "letter" streets, especially if the businesses push for all of Ocean Street to be one way all the way to Thomas Knight Park.

Leah Lippmann, the group's chairwoman, said residents understand the business owners' concerns, but fear motorists will be pushed to the letter streets to reverse direction.

"Some people are delighted about it, and others think it needs to be looked at more critically," Lippman said Monday. "They're concerned about what it means for them, but I don't think anyone living down in the neighborhood wants the businesses discouraged in any way."

Caroline Hendry, a Planning Board member who lives on B Street, is one of those concerned residents. 

"I think we all wish success for the business community, it should not be at the inconvenience of people who live here," she said on the neighborhood association's Facebook page.

She also said "parallel parking on one side of the street and angled parking on the other and a single lane in the middle could be a disaster in the making."

While the city is soliciting the input of businesses and residents, there is only so much wiggle room. The ultimate goal is still the road and utility work, so whatever Knightville decides it wants has to fit within the scheme and budget of the plan.

Assistant City Manager Erik Carson said the appeal of the one-way option is that the only change it would require is changing the painted lines on the road.

"Changing the street to one way wouldn't require any changes in the construction documents, which is critical," he said Monday. "The utility work is driving this project. (The one-way proposal) doesn't change the road width or anything else."

Andy Holmes, an A Street resident, was at Thomas Knight Park Monday with his dog. He said he doesn't think the one-way plan will dramatically increase traffic in his neighborhood, which he said is pretty light on traffic anyway.

"It sounds like a good compromise, I guess," Holmes said.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.