Thursday, December 5, 2013
GORHAM - Robert Coppola likens parking in Gorham village to shopping at the mall around Christmas.
Businesses line Main Street in Gorham across the street from one of two almost-abutting lots that the town is buying for the purpose of creating more parking spaces in the village.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer
"How many people don't go to (there) because they think it's going to be a madhouse, and then you go, and it's empty?" said Coppola, who owns a large commercial building on the corner of routes 25 and 114, the busiest spot in town.
Not that he's against the plan to add more parking in the area. Coppola applauded the Town Council for its decision Tuesday to purchase two house lots for the purpose of creating parking lots.
"When the economy was good, the parking was a problem," he said. "You've got to strike while the iron's hot."
The council approved buying the two almost-abutting lots at 21 Main St. and 10 Preble St. for a total of $409,800. The money is coming out of the town's land acquisition reserve fund -- a pot of about $515,000 before those purchases, said Town Manager David Cole.
Cole said references to a lack of parking riddle a report done by a committee formed in 1996 to identify needed improvements to the village.
But some say it's not an issue now.
Preble Street residents who attended the Town Council meeting Tuesday said that not only are they opposed to living next to a parking lot, they also don't think the extra spaces are necessary.
"There's tons of parking," said Kathy Kigin, who lives next door to the house on Preble Street that the town plans to buy.
Ken O'Brien, who has lived about a mile away from the village for 14 years, said he stops in the area almost every day at all different times. He said he's never had trouble finding a space on the street, and noted that many of the businesses have their own lots.
Like Coppola, O'Brien believes the village is perceived as a difficult place to park but actually is not. But he thinks the town should be spending its money only on "real, measurable" needs.
"It's just all a show," he said of the plan to build parking lots.
The closest the town previously came to addressing parking in the village was a proposal a few years ago to pave the lawn next to the Robie Gym. In the end, the council decided the green space was more valuable, Cole said.
The 15 spaces in front of Robie Gym were empty around noon Thursday, as were several others along School and South streets.
Coppola said it wasn't that way before a fire temporarily shut down the popular Gorham House of Pizza, across Route 25 from his building, and it still gets crowded around rush hour, when parents are dropping off the kids for classes at The Dance Studio of Maine and the dinner crowd starts to arrive, he said.
House of Pizza owner Angelo Sotiropoulos, who has a stretch of about 15 spaces on the street right in front of his business, said he doesn't hear complaints about parking from his customers, whom he called "heroes."
"They park down at the library and walk back," he said.
As to whether new parking lots would reinvigorate business in the area, Sotiropoulos said, it's "tough to tell."
Councilor Matt Mattingly, who owns the PineCrest Inn on South Street, just down the road from the town's main intersection, said additional parking spaces are just part of the plan to make a more "vibrant and attractive" village that people want to walk around.
Another major impediment to creating a pedestrian-friendly downtown is the number of curb cuts in the sidewalks, where cars enter and exit businesses in people's walking paths.
The purchase of the house lots could lead to the creation of one central parking area -- and sidewalks that are safer to navigate, Mattingly said. And more foot traffic leads to more businesses.
"You can really transform a downtown effectively," he said.
But that's a ways away.
Beyond closing on the properties, Cole said, there's no definite next step for what to do with the land, though he said talking to nearby property owners about a larger parking plan is a possibility.
If the town finds that the properties don't provide the solution to parking in the village, Mattingly said, it can always sell them.
"What we really just bought ourselves is time," he said.
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at