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South Portland City Council finds reverse gear on Knightville parking

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South Portland City Council finds reverse gear on Knightville parking

SOUTH PORTLAND — New sidewalks, catch basins and light poles are becoming more visible on Ocean Street in Knightville.

But after a shift in opinion Monday by at least three city councilors, the old angled parking in front of businesses between E and C streets is likely to continue.

In a special workshop held after the regular council meeting, six of seven councilors indicated support for vehicle parking on the west side of the street at 45-degree angles, with traffic flow becoming one way for an undetermined stretch.

Councilor Rosemarie De Angelis was the only supporter of a council-approved plan from June that would have returned parallel parking not seen on the street for 15 years. 

"You can't just re-debate every issue again and again and again," De Angelis said at the outset of a 20-minute talk on the safety advantages of parallel parking.

Mayor Patti Smith and Councilor Maxine Beecher agreed parallel parking is a safer alternative, but they and Councilor Tom Coward were swayed by pleas that angled parking better serves businesses in the two-block stretch.

Coward said councilors lacked data on the potential impact of revised parking before the 4-3 vote in June to change the configuration.

Having heard so many accounts from business owners and customers who stressed the need of quick, easy access, Coward said he is not inclined to establish a one-year trial period for parallel parking.

"I'm more concerned the do-over would be over the corpses of businesses down there," he said.

A two-thirds majority of five votes is needed to change the ordinance requiring angled parking at 60 degrees to the 45 degree-spaces. Four votes are needed to create a one-way street. Both votes could happen by the end of September, as the construction draws to a close.

Angled parking was first allowed in 1997, after the opening of the Casco Bay Bridge meant Ocean Street was no longer a direct path to Portland via the old Million-Dollar Bridge over the Fore River.

Pleas to retain angled parking came in more than 90 pages of emails and 40 minutes of comments. Former Maine Rep. Boyd Marley, former Legion Square Market owner Tom Smaha, current store owner Alan Cardinal, insurance agency owner Bob O'Brien and stylist Sharon Pratt of Flair for Hair all asked the council to reverse itself on angled parking.

Each said the angled parking allows customers to park closer to businesses for quick access and service.

B Street resident and Planning Board member Caroline Hendry continued to support the parallel parking plan.

"This will only help us all," she said. "The traffic flow works."

She was not alone in her opinion, as E Street resident Donna Snow said she worries increased traffic, especially on the lettered side streets, will harm the quality of life.

"It won't be preserved if we get a lot of traffic," Snow said.

Changes to Ocean Street, whether in parking or traffic flow, are necessitated by a $3.6 million project that is adding sewer and storm-water drain pipes to the area extending to Mill Creek Park.

Sebago Technics Engineer Dan Riley said Ocean Street is not wide enough to sustain angled parking and two way traffic at 45 or 60 degrees, even if parking continues to be banned on the east side of the street.

Riley oversaw planning for the sewer and utility project and said widening some portions of sidewalk allows for better placement of light poles and easier snow removal.

Riley estimated a minimal loss of actual parking spaces in the two-block stretch, but Drinan Properties owner Michael Drinan said the critical element is how the spaces are arranged, not how many are available.

"The issue of the number of spaces is simply misleading," Drinan said.

Changing traffic flow to one way northbound was discussed in the winter, and there is no council consensus on how far to extend the one-way street. Riley advised against extending one-way traffic as far north as A Street because of truck and marina traffic and the confluence with Waterman Drive near Thomas Knight Park.

In her opposition to reconsidering the council decision, De Angelis rejected arguments that parallel parking is too difficult a task.

"I can parallel park in New York City in an 18-wheeler," she said before offering parking lessons to anyone who wanted them.

De Angelis said she frequently shops at Ocean Street and Knightville businesses, and doubted the economic impact of parallel parking is as dire as presented.

"To me, it is over-reaction and a fear of change," she said. "I don't believe it for a second, not one second.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.