SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council’s decision to change the parking spaces in Knightville has prompted some business owners to accuse the city of being unfriendly to business.

Councilors decided this week to replace angled, pull-in parking spots on one side of Ocean Street with parallel parking spots on both sides. The change is part of a $3 million project to separate storm drains from the sewer system, widen sidewalks and add high-efficiency streetlights in the neighborhood.

Construction began in April and is expected to continue through October.

Project plans call for a switch to parallel parking, which raised objections from business owners who say the change could discourage customers from shopping in the area. City officials, however, say the improvements will make the area more attractive to shoppers and ultimately improve business.

City Manager James Gailey said the city is looking out for both businesses and residents in the mixed-use neighborhood. The project will widen sidewalks to make them more pedestrian-friendly while enhancing the look of the area, he said.

“I think many of the businesses, once it’s complete, will appreciate the new streetscape down there,” he said.

Tom Smaha, owner of Legion Square Market, said the construction has put a damper on his business — something he fears will continue if his customers can’t find parking close to the store. His market normally has 2,000 customers each week. That number has been cut in half since construction started, he said.

On Thursday, Smaha stepped out of the market and pointed up and down muddy Ocean Street, his words nearly drowned out by construction noise.

“They’re absolutely killing me. There’s no parking on the block today,” he said. “My customers have no place to park.”

Customers don’t want to walk two blocks to their cars while loaded down with groceries, Smaha said.

Other customers, like A.L. Carlisle of Cape Elizabeth, don’t want to parallel park.

“I think it’s dreadful,” Carlisle said of the parking plan while shopping for groceries. “I’ve been shopping here for 40 years and it’s getting more and more difficult. This is going to make it even harder.”

Smaha isn’t opposed to improving sidewalks, but thinks the city should be more concerned with supporting businesses in the area.

“They want to make this a little yuppieville where you can sit around and drink coffee and walk your dog,” he said. “They turn around and create this very unfriendly business atmosphere. I’m extremely upset and disappointed the city doesn’t care.”

Michael Drinan, owner of the Market Place building next to Smaha’s market, also thinks the parking decision sends a message that the city is unfriendly to businesses. He and other business owners collected 600 signatures in favor of maintaining angled parking, which they submitted to the council earlier this year.

“People are not going to walk hundreds of feet to buy their groceries or get a cup of coffee,” he said. “For a lot of people, parallel parking is a hassle. My fear is, they won’t do it and will just go elsewhere.”

Drinan favored a plan to maintain angled parking by making part of Ocean Street one-way, but Mayor Patti Smith said that would create an inconvenience and reroute traffic onto side streets. She said the decision to switch to parallel parking was a tough one, but she thinks the project will ultimately support economic growth and a more vibrant neighborhood.

If the new parking plan creates “undue harm,” the council will rethink its decision after a year, Smith said.

“If we do see this isn’t the best way to go or there are alternatives, the city manager said we can grind up those lines and re-stripe it,” she said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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