HALLOWELL — Municipal officials in Hallowell have long considered downtown parking, or the lack thereof, to be a major concern. And with Water Street’s reconstruction set for April 2018, Hallowell leaders want to find a permanent solution.

“There have been complaints for as long as I can remember,” Mayor Mark Walker said. “The city is going to have severe needs in the future, but we can make arrangements now to improve parking.”

Walker and Maine Department of Transportation officials have stated the Water Street project will result in the loss of 30 spaces because many of the street’s current spaces are not up to code. The city is working hard to find a permanent way not only to account for the upcoming loss of parking, but also to find ways to create additional, permanent parking spots.

City Manager Stefan Pakulski and Walker have been negotiating to buy land in hopes of having a permanent parking lot near Water Street completed by late next year. The City Council met in executive session Jan. 11 to discuss the negotiations, but Walker and other councilors would not discuss details of the talks.

During that council meeting, Walker appointed a parking subcommittee specifically tasked with exploring downtown Hallowell parking issues and seeking ways to gain more permanent parking.

Walker appointed new Councilor Sophie Gabrion to the committee, and for Gabrion, the issue is of great concern because she lives in an apartment in downtown Hallowell without parking.

“The challenge becomes since we have our downtown district and its strong following, all the street and public parking is packed,” Gabrion said. “I don’t want any of Hallowell’s finest to give me a ticket, but I have had to make the decision to pay a $15 fine so I can go to sleep (at a normal time) and not worry about having to move my car.”

LACK OF ENFORCEMENT?

One of the many complaints the city receives is about the lack of parking enforcement. Walker and police Chief Eric Nason said drivers are parking in two-hour and 15-minute zones for far too long, sometimes all day. But both said the lack of enforcement can be attributed to a lack of resources.

“Parking enforcement is something that requires a fair amount of time,” Nason said. “You can spend that time and you try to mix it in with your duties, and sometimes that works, but sometimes it doesn’t.

“Most people obey the parking ordinances, but we have some people that don’t. It’s very difficult for us to be on every street.”

Several years ago, the city changed its fine schedule for parking violations. The first violation results in a $15 ticket, with increases to $25, $50 and then $75 for a fourth transgression. Some have suggested the fines are not enough of a deterrent, but Nason disagrees.

“I think the fine amounts are (OK), and I think they do work, because we get a fair amount of people complaining when they get parking tickets,” he said. “They take the time to dispute (them).”

Geoff Houghton, owner of The Liberal Cup restaurant, said parking tickets are probably the only way to get people to pay attention. He thinks more people would come to town if more parking was available, and he said one thing he does to help is forbid his employees to park on Water Street.

Leah Sampson, new owner of The Maine House craft cocktail bar and a former bartender at Slate’s, said she often wished she could put a sign on her car telling people she had to park in a weird spot so she could get to work.

A PERMANENT SOLUTION

Gabrion and Walker agree that with the reconstruction looming, now is the time to focus on finding a permanent solution to the parking problem before it’s too late.

“Now is the time we can practically plan not only for what to do in 2018, but how we can put things in place now and build some policies that support additional parking so that it’s not a whole bunch of change happening all at once,” Gabrion said. “We can have some concrete solutions, but we just have to be mindful of it now.”

At least one business owner and building owner in Hallowell is unsure who’s actually responsible for fixing the parking shortage.

Alfred Lund, a massage therapist who owns the Center for Health Insight and its building on Second Street, said the complaints haven’t been loud enough for people to do anything about it.

“I think the view is myopic and not that uncommon for people to focus on what they want to see,” Lund said. “They want to see more business downtown, but they don’t want to invest in infrastructure to support that extra business.”

Lund agrees with other business owners, however, that the lack of parking is a big concern.

“People tend to park anywhere they can find a spot,” he said. “There isn’t even close to enough adequate parking in this town.”

However, at least one Water Street business owner isn’t worried much about parking.

Kim Davis, who has helped run Scrummy Afters candy shop for four years, said she doesn’t know if there is a problem now and thinks people can be a little more flexible. She said people who come to Hallowell are used to parking challenges.

“Compared to other cities, I think we do a pretty good job,” Davis said. “If somebody parks in my space, I’m not going to go crazy about it.”