South Portland petition for 1-way traffic in Knightville could face challenge

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SOUTH PORTLAND — A petition signed by more than 1,000 people calling for the return of one-way traffic and diagonal parking on Ocean Street in Knightville was submitted to the city for review Monday. 

But a local attorney said the petition is not legally valid and could be challenged in court. 

The petition to revert to one-way northbound travel and restore 15 diagonal parking spots on the west side of Ocean Street between E and D streets began circulating in May. The petition drive followed the City Council’s decision in March to reinstate two-way traffic and replace the diagonal parking with fewer parallel parking spots.

The issue has divided the neighborhood, with business owners and residents on both sides of the issue arguing the merits of one-way versus two-way.

Petitioners hoping to reverse the council’s decision and place a referendum question on the November ballot were required to collect at least 944 signatures from registered voters, or 5 percent of the number of residents who voted in the last election. 

As of Thursday morning, the city clerk’s office was nearly halfway through the process of validating the signatures. If the 944 mark is met, the council has 60 days to approve, alter, or reject the appeal.

If councilors approve the appeal, City Clerk Emily Carrington said it will become law after a mandated public hearing and a first and second reading. If the council rejects or changes the language of the initiative, the appeal will appear as a referendum question in the Nov. 8 general election.

April Cohen, a real estate agent who lives on Broadway and is the daughter of Councilor Linda Cohen, submitted the signatures July 18.

The city worked hard to get Knightville where it is today – a burgeoning hub for new businesses, residents and visitors – Cohen said Tuesday. As a regular patron of Cia Cafe and Verbena, both on Ocean Street in Knightville, Cohen said she believes the one-way configuration worked well.

She said her perceptions were reinforced by traffic studies completed last year, which showed traffic had not disproportionately increased on other residential streets as a result of the one-way traffic on Ocean Street.

“There were so many efforts to get it where it is now, and to take away (some of) the parking from the businesses that have thrived down there, it seems so wrong,” Cohen said. 

Opponents of the current, two-way arrangement also argue that replacing diagonal parking with parallel parking makes the area less accessible. “It’s one of those things (that) affects everyone who visits that area,” Cohen said. “If you can’t (park) there, you’re not going to go there.”

But the road to the Nov. 8 ballot could be bumpy.

Attorney Natalie West, who helped write the city’s Clear Skies Ordinance for the Protect South Portland citizens group, said Thursday morning that because the council’s decision was an administrative action rather than legislative, the matter isn’t reversible by a referendum under the City Charter.

“The law is clear, and one would hope that attorneys would advise the council in accordance with the accepted rules of law,” she said.  

If the required number of signatures are validated and the appeal is moved to a referendum, opponents will have the option of filing a lawsuit for a pre-election review, West said. 
At this point, she said, she hasn’t been hired to challenge the petition.

Even so, West, who lives in the Willard Beach neighborhood, said she doubts “very much this measure would pass,” because “I think everybody who’s down in (Knightville) feels that the two-way setup is much more practical.”

Phil Notis, owner of the Bridgeway Restaurant at 71 Ocean St., agreed with West. Notis said Thursday morning that the issue is an “administrative matter and not a matter that is subject to referendum.”

“That puts the city on notice, I think, that there’s a legal issue here of whether or not this initiative is even legal,” he said. “Why should the City Council be strong-armed by an initiative like this?

“The whole thing here is to see how this traffic pattern works for Knightville,” Notis said. “Why not give it time to see how it works out?”

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland Public Works Department employees scrub off lines for angled parking spaces on Ocean Street between D and E streets on Tuesday night, May 31. Petition signatures were submitted to the city on Monday, July 18, to restore the parking and return the street to one-way travel.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.