SOUTH PORTLAND — Complaints from residents prompted city councilors Monday to establish a committee to work on solutions to traffic and parking congestion in Knightville.
With Councilor Tom Blake absent, councilors also indicated they will move forward with negotiations to sell two parcels of undeveloped city off Highland Avenue.
Parking and traffic patterns in Knightville have become a source of headaches for some residents since parts of the neighborhood were reconfigured during a major sewer separation project two years ago.
Businesses on Ocean Street successfully lobbied for a block of one-way traffic and angled parking from the Legion Square rotary at E Street to D Street.
While the businesses have benefited from the change, some nearby residents say they’ve experienced a two-pronged problem.
First, lack of adequate off-street parking for business employees has reduced street parking for residents and created sometimes dangerously narrow travel lanes that don’t provide enough space for emergency vehicles. Second, the one-way pattern on Ocean Street has led to increased traffic on D Street from cars and trucks circling back to Waterman Drive, Ocean Street and Cottage Road.
“I’m mad and I’m over this,” Melanie Wiker, a resident of D Street, told councilors. “I love our community, I love our businesses, but we’ve got to figure something out.”
Throughout the workshop discussion, residents, business owners and councilors floated several possible solutions. City Manager Jim Gailey also suggested creating a new municipal parking lot for business employees on an unused bus loop on Waterman Drive.
Other parking proposals included residential parking stickers, two-hour parking limits on Knightville’s “letter” streets, and additional employee parking behind businesses. Councilor Patti Smith also suggested that businesses provide incentives for their employees to walk or bike to work.
On the D Street traffic issue, some residents proposed one-way eastbound travel for all the letter streets intersecting Ocean Street, which would force northbound vehicles to travel to the Casco Bay Bridge and around to Waterman Drive to leave the neighborhood.
The only concrete decision reached was that the city should form a committee of Knightville residents and business owners to vet solutions for the mixed-use community.
Alan Cardinal, owner of Legion Square Market on Ocean Street, reminded councilors not to discount the issue’s root cause: Knightville’s blossoming business development.
“It’s a success,” he said. “There’s a reason for all this traffic.”
Eighteen residents sent letters to Councilor Melissa Linscott explaining the problem, and 12 spoke to councilors during the workshop. Linscott, whose real estate business is in Knightville, said she was pleasantly surprised the discussion did not seem “adversarial” between residents and business owners.
“It seems like people want to work together,” she said.
Gailey said he will develop a committee to work on solutions in the next few weeks, and hopes to hold public forums throughout the process.
Councilors also directed city staff to begin negotiations with the family of Stan Cox, owners of Cox Farm on Highland Avenue, for the sale of two city-owned parcels that abut their land.
Cox initiated the land purchase in 2012 with the intent to keep it open for his farm, although he wished to reserve the right to build a road on the property. He offered the city $18,000 for the two lots, a price councilors reconsidered in their workshop Monday.
Councilors eventually indicated their support for negotiating a higher price with the Cox family, and potentially putting deed restrictions on the land to protect it from development.