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South Portland parking change angers Knightville businesses

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South Portland parking change angers Knightville businesses

SOUTH PORTLAND — Some Knightville business owners are fuming over the City Council intention to replace angled, drive-in parking spaces on two blocks of Ocean Street with parallel parking.

That plan was developed in the beginning of the year as part of the $2.9 million sewer separation and utility work currently under way in the neighborhood. It brings parking on Ocean Street up to city and federal code and allows for the widening and beautification of sidewalks.

The plan doesn't remove any parking spots, but stretches them out down the length of Ocean Street north of Legion Square.

After businesses in Knightville said they thought the plan would make shopping in the district less convenient, the city developed an alternative that would preserve angled parking by making Ocean Street one way from E Street to C Street. Business owners liked the idea, but residents said the plan would drive more traffic down residential side streets.

Somebody had to lose, Councilor Tom Blake said. 

"No matter what we do down there, we're not going to please everybody," Blake said Monday. During a council workshop, the City Council weighed its options and voted 4-3 to support the original plan, despite business owners's protest.

The plan still requires another, final vote.

Councilors Rosemarie De Angelis, Maxine Beecher, Tom Coward and Mayor Patti Smith favored the parallel plan, saying it was safer and that they trusted the work of city engineers.

"They played us along to give us a glimpse of hope and turned around to do what they wanted to do in the first place," said Tom Smaha, owner of Legion Square Market, which is fronted by the angled parking spaces. "I have no idea where it came from."

Smaha said he isn't interested in the city's plans to create wider sidewalks and new landscaping, at least not at the expense of the angled parking.

"They want to make this a little Yuppieville, to sit around, have a cup of coffee and walk their dogs," he said. "They're not considering the business people at all. We pay employees, we pay taxes, we support civic activities. What do we get in return? Nothing."

Michael Drinan, who owns the Market Place building next to Smaha's, said that even if the city doesn't reduce parking, changing the street layout will drive people away from Knightville.

"There's a lot of older people that patronize these businesses, and they'll find parallel parking daunting," he said. "You don't have to parallel park at Hannaford or Shaw's."

Several councilors said that if the parallel parking plan ends up hurting businesses in Knightville, it could be reversed later by simply changing the paint on the street. But City Manager Jim Gailey urged the council to make a decision and stick with it. 

"To change the whole traffic pattern because we hear people don't like it ... that's not as easy as just saying 'go do it,'" he said. "To just go by how the wind's blowing in a particular month or season, we can't afford to do that. We need an answer."

The council will likely take up the Knightville parking question in July, Gailey said. Drinan said he'd attend, but isn't sure it will make a difference.

"I don't know what to do," he said. "I think we've made a valid case. What else do they need to know? We've kind of beat this horse to death, if you ask me."

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