SOUTH PORTLAND – Michael Drinan hopes to avoid a parallel universe.

Six weeks ago, the owner of Drinan Properties learned of the city’s plan to replace the diagonal parking spaces on the west side of Ocean Street with parallel spaces on both sides of the street.

It’s part of a larger project in Knightville involving sewer and storm-water separation, and widened sidewalks that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Tenants in the Drinan-owned Market Place, which include a hairdresser and an insurance company, fear that losing the diagonal spaces would mean losing customers.

Business people see the angled parking as a way to keep more spaces in front of their shops, and see parallel parking as less convenient for drivers.

“Look at that,” said Drinan, standing on a sidewalk across from the Amy Alward Insurance Agency and gesturing toward a car pulling into one of the 19 angled parking spaces between the roundabout and D Street. “This is not a busy time of day. It’s a quarter to three. And yet (nearly) every space is filled.”

Drinan said those spaces turn over frequently because of the nature of Knightville’s shops.

Rhonda Murphy, a manager at Smaha’s Legion Square Market, said convenience is why many customers buy groceries at Smaha’s, with its four aisles and two registers, instead of negotiating the larger Hannaford and Shaw’s supermarkets nearby. “People like it because it’s small,” she said. “They pull in, get what they need and they’re out the door in five to 10 minutes.”

Between the bread and a cooler holding soft drinks at Smaha’s stands a small card table holding highlighted newspaper clippings about the parking plan, and a petition for patrons to sign. Last month, the petition expressed objections to the plan for only parallel parking.

This month, a new petition asks patrons to support changing the plan to save angled parking by making Ocean Street northbound-only, as it was 15 years ago when two-lane traffic fed commuters onto the now-dismantled Million Dollar Bridge.

After hearing objections to the parking plan at a workshop Feb. 6, the City Council asked Jim Gailey, the city manager, to explore a one-way option.

Having studied the issue, Gailey said he will present a proposal for two blocks of one-way traffic on Ocean Street at a workshop scheduled for March 12.

“Creating a one-way scenario and just re-striping the (pavement) preserves the project and keeps it moving forward and we don’t lose the construction season,” Gailey said. “So that’s really the only alternative we came up with.”

Delaying the project might have cost the city $675,000 in state and federal grant money, Gailey said, and possibly upset arrangements with the Portland Water District and Unitil to replace water and natural-gas lines in concert with the sewer, stormwater and sidewalk work. “There’s been a lot of coordination,” he said, “between two utilities and the municipality to get into the corridor, do what we need to do, and then button up the corridor and not have to worry about it for another 50 to 75 years.”

His proposal would keep the diagonal parking slots in front of Smaha’s and the shops on either side of it – angled for northbound traffic instead of the current southbound alignment – and add parallel spaces on the west side of Ocean Street.

Gailey said he will welcome feedback from Knightville residents and business owners at the March workshop.

Earlier this month, the project went out for bids with a parking scheme that only had parallel parking on both sides of the street. “Ultimately, if the neighborhood and the business district doesn’t like our idea, we’ll keep the existing design,” he said. “If there is a desire to look at the scope of one-way, then we’re all ears. To what extent do they want the one-way?”

Drinan said he likes the one-way solution, whether it’s for a block or all the way to Waterman Drive. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a great compromise,” Drinan said. “I think it works for everyone: the merchants, the residents, the city.” 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com