Loss of on-street parking remains concern about downtown project

Posted:  Friday, October 6, 2017 - 8:45am
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Controversy continues to swirl around Maine Department of Transportation’s plans to eliminate Main Street parking and the Haggett Garage building in the agency’s downtown improvement project. The loss of both and the impact on the community were discussed at a meeting at Wiscasset Elementary School Thursday, Oct. 5. About 100 residents came.

The $5 million project is scheduled to begin in April 2018; preparation for the removal of the Haggett building will start in mid-December. MDOT scheduled the meeting to discuss amenities it’s paying for including lamppost lighting, bollards, trees and signage. Residents were asked to indicate their preferences through an electronic clicker poll. Results will be shared with the town’s Public Advisory Committee, a group of volunteers that’s been meeting with MDOT planners for over a year.

The meeting was well into its second hour before the floor was opened to questions. Project Manager Ernie Martin heard renewed concerns over the loss of Main Street parking and removal of the Haggett building, where MDOT plans to construct a 25-space parking lot.

On Oct. 3, selectmen voted 3-2 opposing the removal of  Main Street parking and other storefront parking. The board did not vote on the Haggett building. Selectmen also extended an invitation to MDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt to discuss parking and other concerns over the project.

Among those speaking Oct. 5 was Maine District 13 Sen. Dana Dow of Waldoboro. “I’m introducing a bill that will slow this process down,” he told the audience. Dow said he hopes MDOT will revisit Option 1, a proposal voters rejected in 2016 when they chose between it, the winning Option 2 and doing nothing. Option 1 would have left some of the Main Street parking.

“I’m not in favor of eliminating the parking. To do so would mean Wiscasset would be shooting itself in both feet,” Dow said. His comments were greeted by a loud round of applause. As Dow was explaining he couldn’t guarantee his bill would make its way to the full legislature, several people spoke up saying he was representing only one side on the issue. “If the bill progresses people can offer testimony either for, or against it,” responded Dow.

Seaver Leslie, a member of the Public Advisory Committee, said he hoped MDOT would reconsider its decision to remove the Haggett building. “It provides over $8,000 in property taxes and can be used in so many different ways,” he said. “Storefront parking is essential to our business community which is why we have to talk and see how we can get back to Option 1,” he added.

Pam Logan of Fort Hill Street asked MDOT to consider implementing some of its proposals on a trial basis. She suggested MDOT close off Main Street to parking for a short period and see what the results will be.

Martin said there was still a lot of discussion to come as far as what will and won’t happen with the project. “I can’t stand here and make the changes you are requesting but I can take your concerns back with me to Augusta. I’m hearing your comments loud and clear,” he said.

Others wanted to comment but Martin moved onto reviewing the project’s anticipated timeline. He said Midcoast Conservancy would be vacating 36 Water Street, the Haggett building, by Dec. 1 with site preparation set to begin there by Dec. 17.

A final public hearing on the downtown improvement project will be held in January with the project ready to bid by March. Construction will commence in April and then stop June 23 for the summer and resume in September. Completion is slated for June 2019.