FREEPORT – The Freeport Planning Board heard from local business owners last week regarding potential changes to the parking requirements for businesses in the village section of town.

The board did not take a vote at the Oct. 3 meeting. Freeport Planning Assistant Caroline Pelletier said the town staff would draft some proposed ordinance language for consideration at the next meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7.

Businesses in the village now are required to provide one customer parking space for every 150 square feet of floor space and one employee parking space for every 1,000 square feet. According to Freeport Town Planner Donna Larson, businesses could fill that requirement either by owning a parking lot or leasing parking spaces in one of the downtown lots.

However, some businesses have requested that the requirements be reduced, which led the town to begin working with a consultant, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin of Watertown, Mass., on potential changes.

Bill Crenshaw, of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, presented some recommendations to the board at the meeting last week, including reducing or eliminating the parking requirements for businesses located solely on the upper floors of buildings, reducing the parking requirement for residential apartments in the village, cutting the parking requirement in half for businesses and restaurants that operate solely in the upper levels or basements of buildings and applying the parking requirements equally to all properties in the village. Dropping a grandfathered exemption would allow the town to change the parking requirements to eliminate businesses with less than 1,000 square feet from having to supply any parking spaces.

Joe Saunders, who owns a commercial building on the corner of Mill and Main streets, and is grandfathered from the parking regulations, told the board he didn’t think it was fair to take away his grandfathered rights.

“This is about money,” he said. “This does not provide more parking. I just think that’s unfair. Every business that came to Freeport since this ordinance (was enacted) knew exactly what the requirement was and the cost. Now you’re asking us to bail them out.”

Annette Evans, who owns RD Allen Freeport Jewelers, a newer business that spends $3,000 per year for two spaces to meet the requirement, said she was in favor of the changes. Evans told the board her business, at less than 1,000 square feet, would be exempt from the regulations if the board passed all the consultant’s recommendations, “so this benefits us a great deal,” she said.

“(Paying for parking spaces) is a burden for a small business,” Evans said. “When you have to pay additional money for parking in addition to everything you need to do, it’s a burden.”

Pelletier said the board supported most of the recommendations, but the one eliminating the grandfathered rights of some property holders was not supported and will not be part of the new ordinance language being discussed next month.

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