Wiscasset select board opposes loss of on-street parking

Posted:  Wednesday, October 4, 2017 - 7:45am

By a 3-2 vote, the Wiscasset Select Board went on record Tuesday opposing removal of  parking on Main Street and other storefront parking as part of the Maine Department of Transportation’s Downtown Improvement Project. Chairman Judy Colby and Selectman Jeff Slack dissented.

The motion to revisit the parking issue was made by Vice Chairman Ben Rines Jr. and came in response to written and verbal pleas from eight downtown business owners.

The discussion began after Seaver Leslie approached the podium during public comment. “I’m a member of your Public Advisory Committee on the downtown project but I’m here tonight representing another group, Citizens for Sensible Solutions, a coalition of businesses and residents seeking a better solution to our seasonal traffic problems than MDOT’s ill-conceived, destructive, and extremely expensive proposal called Option 2,” he began reading from a prepared statement.

“There is no need to eliminate storefront parking, which generates many thousands of dollars in retail activity. There is no need to demolish the Haggett Garage, a tax-generating business asset and a unique part of our history and townscape.”

Leslie said Citizens for Sensible Solutions has reached out to State Sen. Dana Dow and Rep. Jeff Hanley. “They have submitted a bill to the Legislature to instruct Commissioner (David) Bernhardt to cease moving ahead with Option 2 because of the threat it poses to Wiscasset’s economic vitality; the $5 million price tag for Maine Taxpayers; and Wiscasset voters’ rejection of Option 2 by warrant article last June.”

Leslie suggested selectmen invite Bernhardt to a  board meeting to discuss the loss of parking, the Haggett building and other concerns about the project.

Several downtown business owners also spoke, including Erika Soule, owner of Rock, Paper Scissors on Main Street. “Removing the parking will kill my business,” she said, adding it would be next to impossible to continue operating her gift shop on a year-round basis. “I’d be forced to leave the town where I grew up.”

Bruce Marcus who operates Water Street Antiques said if MDOT’s project goes through as planned he would very likely be forced to close and relocate.

“The issue is the loss of storefront parking,” Bill Sutter, a lifelong Wiscasset resident, said. “They are going to take 58 parking spots away. But what this really comes down to is local control. MDOT is requiring people that want to do business or shop on Main Street to be re-routed to side streets in order to do so.”

Selectmen Katharine Martin-Savage and Bob Blagden voiced support for the business owners. “I don’t see how tearing down Haggett Garage and removing all the Main Street parking benefits the town in any way,” Blagden commented. Martin-Savage said the board had a responsibility to take care of its business community.

But Colby said she continued to support the project. “The state has made up their mind what they want to do. We can invite them here but I doubt they will listen.”

The board voted unanimously to direct Town Manager Marian Anderson to extend an invitation to Bernhardt.

Slack said he could no longer represent the board on the Public Advisory Committee. “I’m a supporter of the project, if the board is not – I no longer want to continue in that capacity,” he said. Martin-Savage volunteered to serve.

Also Tuesday, Preston Dunning was appointed to the Budget Committee and Anderson as Deputy Code Enforcement Officer and Alternate Plumbing Inspector. Following a public hearing, selectmen renewed a special amusement permit for Wiscasset Speedway.