BIDDEFORD — On Thursday, the Biddeford City Council gave preliminary approval for a citizen’s referendum in November on whether to allow metered parking in the greater downtown area.

Council members also approved putting a two-year limit on the question. The limit would mean if the question is approved, and people vote to install meters, the order must be implemented within two years. If the referendum fails and the public votes against putting up meters, the ban would only last for two years. Parking meters would be allowed after that limit, unless other action is taken, such as another referendum vote, to extend the prohibition.

“I’d like to put a time limit on this,” said Councilor Michael Swanton, who proposed the amendment.

Last year, citizens collected the necessary signatures to get the referendum on the ballot. This was after parking meters had been linked to council discussion regarding a proposed parking garage.

Although the parking structure debate never rose to the level of an official proposal, the issue was a topic during last year’s local elections.

Metered parking was included in the recommendations of an overall parking management study by consultants Winston Scott Architects and Rich & Associates that was commissioned by the city.

Many objecting to the parking structure also opposed metered parking in the downtown and organized a petition drive to get a question on the ballot asking whether the city should install parking meters in the downtown Biddeford

Just what is the “greater downtown Biddeford area” would probably be decided after the vote, if necessary. No definition is included in the referendum and Economic Development Director Daniel Stevenson said there are several definitions used in city documents and by various city departments depending on the specific need.

City Solicitor Keith Jacques said that issue could be addressed after the election, as long as the defined area was in line with the intent of the proposal.

Before the council approved the time limit amendment for the question, Jacques was also asked his opinion on whether the council could impose such a limit. He said he believed it did not substantially change the intent of the referendum and therefore could be included.

Paul Therrien, who supports letting the public decide on whether or not to install parking meters in the downtown, disagreed.

“I don’t think that is in line with what we were seeking,” he said.

Before breaking a veto to include the two-year limit, Mayor Alan Casavant said he opposed the question.

“We need to deal with parking,” he said.

Casavant said the city has received a number of inquiries from companies interested in moving into the downtown and/or mill district, but when they learn about the parking limitations, they lose interest.

Another issue that arose during the council discussion was whether the referendum would ban charging for parking in public lots owned by the city. It hasn’t been determined whether a vote to ban meters would prohibit that, said Jacques.

A second vote by the council is necessary before a decision on a parking meter referendum is finalized.

— Staff Writer Dina Mendros can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 324 or [email protected]

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