Without grant, Brunswick sees no need for downtown garage

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Optional developer fee could fund parking structure, alternative transportation

BRUNSWICK — A grant that would have helped to fund a parking garage at Maine Street Station has been rejected by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

But a proposed town parking ordinance would create a fund that could help pay for such a project in the future.

Brunswick applied for a $400,000 Communities for Maine’s Future grant over the summer, and recently found out that its application was denied because local funding for the project wasn’t secured. Although the Brunswick Development Corp. had pledged to match the grant, the remainder of the project’s funding, which was estimated at $3.4 million, was up in the air.

But town staff now say that additional parking there may no longer be necessary.

Town Manager Gary Brown said based on conversations he has had with the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates Amtrak’s Downeaster, the demand for long-term passenger parking may not be as great as initially expected.

“We’re not going to see a sudden large spike in passengers the first day the train comes,” he said.

The addition of about 20 public parking spots in the McLellan building lot could also help take the pressure off existing spaces at Maine Street Station. The extra spots are part of a deal to exchange Bowdoin College’s McLellan building on the corner of Noble and Union streets for Longfellow School. Although the lot has an 88-spot capacity, 39 of those will be reserved for college use and another 20 or so are for town staff.

Brown said he is considering contracting with a parking consultant to determine what the demand could be when the train service begins.

He’s also trying to figure out if a large parking garage at Maine Street Station would be utilized by shoppers in downtown Brunswick, who “are still very used to parking incredibly close to their destination,” he said.

Parking ordinance

Under the new proposed ordinance, a developer could pay the town a set price for each parking spot not created. The money would go into a fund that would be used for alternative transportation projects, or a centrally located parking facility.

Town Planner Kris Hultgren said the ordinance would allow developers to forgo their parking creation requirement only if the new development is in the general downtown area, and is accessible by other forms of transportation.

Although developers wouldn’t be required to pay the fee, currently set at $5,000 per parking spot, Hultgren said some would undoubtedly be interested because it would allow them to devote more land in downtown to commercial space rather than for parking.

“It gives developers flexibility to use it if they want, and allows the land to be used better in these downtown areas,” he said.

The Planning Board would ultimately have the power to compel a developer to create parking spots, even if the developer opted to pay the fee instead.

Portland’s City Council approved such an ordinance last year, but thus far no one has taken advantage of the parking opt-out, said Bill Needelman, senior planner in the city’s planning division.

Needelman said few large commercial developments have been approved in the past year, so there hasn’t been an opportunity to test the new ordinance.

He said the idea behind the ordinance is to “look at the transportation demand of a project, not just the parking demand,” which allows the developer to make their projects better fit in with the neighborhood.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.