South Portland merchants fear parking changes will hurt Knightville businesses

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Some Knightville business owners are worried parking changes caused by upcoming road work on Ocean Street will hurt their bottom lines. 

The project will include sewer separation and catch basin removal, new gas mains, new water mains, sidewalk improvements, landscape enhancements and paving. It’s expected to cost the city about $2.9 million, eased by a $500,000 Maine Department of Transportation grant accepted Monday by the City Council, and other grants and state funding.

After the project is complete, the angled, drive-in parking spots between the rotary and C street will be gone, replaced by parallel parking on both sides of Ocean Street.

Project engineers say there will be no net loss of parking and that at most, spots will be moved 800 feet up the street. 

The changes rankled business owners, who aired their grievances at the council meeting.

“I want to go on the record as a long-standing businessman in this community of being totally opposed to this,” said Tom Smaha, owner of Legion Square Market, which has been at 101 Ocean St. for 70 years.

People who shop at Smaha’s aren’t likely to parallel park when pull-in parking is available up the street at Hannaford, he said, and other pull-in spots are just too far away for his customers.

“People aren’t going to carry their groceries two or three blocks,” Smaha said. “It’s not going to happen.”

Business owners were also upset they hadn’t been given more notice of the parking changes. Many claimed to have not been aware of the spot-shuffling plan until late January.

Michael Drinan, owner of real estate and property management firm Drinan Properties, said he had been approached about the upcoming road work generally, but never specifically about changes in parking.

To the best of his knowledge, he said, neither had any other members of the Waterfront Market Association, a group of businesses aimed at promoting Knightville and Mill Creek.

“The very nature of parking is going to change,” Drinan said.

Amy Alward, who runs the Allstate insurance branch at 95 Ocean St., said she is worried the parking changes will put an end to what has been a booming business.

“My business is growing exponentially,” Alward said. “I don’t want to be forced to move out of this area, especially because I provide jobs, benefits and high salaries for this area.”

Councilors were sympathetic to the business owners’ concerns, but gave little indication they are willing to delay the project’s planned start this spring. They did, however, indicate a willingness to examine parking more closely.

Councilor Tom Coward said the project is attractive because it gets done in one construction season what could normally take years. 

“The merchants are not happy with what’s happening and I think we should look at it,” Coward said. “But that doesn’t mean we should hold the thing up.”

Councilors Rosemarie De Angelis and Tom Blake also said they think more conversations could be held about the business owners’ parking concerns, but Mayor Patti Smith asked them to think about Knightville’s future.

She said one vision for the neighborhood could mean less of a need for parking, as Knightville orients itself for pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation traffic.

“I support this project because it re-imagines Knightville,” she said.

In other business Monday, the council:

• Approved a three-year collective bargaining agreement with the union representing the city’s 10 Fire Command officers that includes a 2 percent raise the first year, a 1.5 percent wage increase the second year and reopening the contract for wage negotiations in year three. The contract also increases the EMT stipend, increases the stipend for passing a fitness exam and allows a weekly stipend for education.

• Signed a Regional Traffic Management System plan with Scarborough, Portland and Westbrook to implement and manage traffic signal coordination. The plan is aimed at reducing traffic and idle times in heavy-traffic areas of the public transportation routes, including Knightville-Mill Creek and the Maine Mall area. It also calls for the four municipalities to hire a single traffic engineer to monitor the entire unified public transportation system.

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