Portland City Council: University of New England parking a big problem

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UNE looks for ways to deter cemetery parking

PORTLAND — The City Council has given its staff until June to come up with a plan to deal with parking complaints directed at the University of New England.

University students and staff have been parking along the access road to Evergreen Cemetery, and also on Stevens Avenue and its side streets. Cemetery visitors and residents have been complaining about the cars.

UNE officials, meanwhile, have been working to come up with incentives to get students to park in two lots the university leases near campus and also to take alternative transportation.

“Staff has been working with UNE for two years to try and better manage access issues,” said Mike Bobinsky, the city’s director of Public Services. He said the city recently installed two-hour parking restriction signs along the access road, but needed council approval of the restriction to allow the parking division to issue tickets.

“This is the single biggest concern at annual neighborhood meetings,” said Councilor Cheryl Leeman. “We really need to do some sort of analysis over there of the parking situation.”

The parking problems coincide with the opening of the UNE Pharmacy School two years ago, Leeman said. She questioned why inadequate parking was allowed when the construction plans were approved by the city.

The university initially had proposed building a parking lot toward the rear of its campus, on part of a 27-acre parcel known as Gulliver Field. The idea, however, was shot down by the Planning Board.

“They were concerned about the environmental impact, although we proposed plans to mitigate that,” said Alan Thibeault, UNE’s director of campus planning.

The board gave UNE two years to come up with a parking plan, and last year granted the university an extension. The parking plan is due by next February.

Thibeault said the university is considering moving its undergraduates off the Portland campus, but also needs to contend with plans for a Dental School.

UNE now leases parking spaces at the nearby Armory and Stevens Avenue Church. The lots get some use, university Safety and Security Director Don Clark said. The cemetery is closer to campus, however.

“We’re trying to incentivize the use of the leased spaces,” Clark said. The university offers free Metro bus use to UNE identification card holders, and more than a year ago started randomly awarding a new bicycle to the owner of a vehicle parked in the church lot.

Bobinsky said UNE is working closely with the city on its parking plan, and that city staff is trying to find middle ground with the university.

Some councilors, however, wanted more immediate and sweeping solutions than the two-hour parking restriction.

“My job is not to accommodate UNE’s parking,” Leeman said.

Councilor Jill Duson said she is concerned the college is encroaching on a historical site by using the access road for parking. Evergreen Cemetery is on the National Historic Register.

Councilor Dory Waxman, who said she walks the cemetery daily, expressed concern that the asphalt is deteriorating.

“I want to be good neighbors, but I think we need to set some clear boundaries,” Waxman said.

The council approved the two-hour restriction for the cemetery, and Bobinsky was told to come back to the council by June with a concrete parking plan.

Bill Bola, UNE vice president of Campus Services, said the university continues to work toward the February 2012 deadline.

He said officials have been working with neighboring property owners for possible leases and are also considering knocking down homes on campus to accommodate parking, constructing a parking deck, and reconsidering the lot the Planning Board rejected for parking.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net