South Portland council OKs Waterman Drive lot, parks SMCC request

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Parking problems took up much of the City Council’s time this week.

The council on Monday awarded a construction contract for a new public parking lot along Waterman Drive between C and E streets, but indicated a lack of support for an appeal from Southern Maine Community College to build a new campus parking area.

The Waterman Drive project, which would have 32 parking spaces, is part of an effort to relieve congestion in the Knightville neighborhood.

A committee of Knightville residents and business owners has been meeting since the summer to find ways to alleviate traffic and parking problems in the commercially flourishing neighborhood.

The new parking lot, in an area that used to be a bus stop, is the first of the committee’s recommendations. 

Councilors said they hope employees of Ocean Street businesses, who now often occupy parking spots in front of businesses and on residential side streets, will use the new lot. 

Committee member Linda Slater, of Ocean Street, also urged councilors to make the lot available to residents for overnight parking during the winter, when on-street parking is banned.

Other residents said they are hopeful the new parking spaces might make nearby Thomas Knight Park more inviting.

Woods Excavating, of Westbrook, was awarded the project for almost $130,000. The funding will come from a community development block grant.

College parking

Councilors discussed the college parking situation in a workshop prior to their meeting.

SMCC lost 225 parking spaces when a lease expired, and had applied to build a 19-space parking lot at the Hub Athletic Center lot as part of a piecemeal effort to regain lost spaces. 

An initial request was denied because the new parking lot would violate a handful of regulations in the city’s code of ordinance on curb cuts. But SMCC appealed the decision to the City Council.

The council toured the property in a workshop Sept. 8, and considered a revised site plan that better met the ordinance requirements.

But ultimately, councilors agreed that building a new lot to regain fewer than 10 percent of the parking the college lost is neither justifiable nor a long-term solution to SMCC’s parking problem.

“It’s not even a full Band-Aid,” Councilor Linda Cohen said. 

Cohen and other councilors said the college should consider a parking garage on the land, but admitted such a project would need state or federal aid. 

Mayor Jerry Jalbert said it is unlikely the council will take up the appeal as currently formulated, although the lack of spaces could soon become an issue for street parking in nearby neighborhoods. 

Clean Air Act

In their meeting, the councilors also unanimously passed a proclamation supporting the nation’s Clean Air Act as part of an effort from the Maine Lung Association to call legislators’ attention to air quality.

The city recently passed the so-called “Clear Skies” ordinance, which bans tar sands oil in the city, partly because of the oil’s potential to pollute air. The proclamation also sites an April report from the American Lung Association that gave Cumberland County a “C” grade for unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.

“I think it’s important we say this out loud, if nothing else,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said. “It also makes us responsible for monitoring more, and for paying more attention to all the issues.”

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.