The city of Biddeford is poised to begin charging to park in eight of its downtown parking lots on Dec. 1. A public meeting on the issue will take place Monday at Biddeford High School. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Residents and business and property owners have raised a number of concerns about a Biddeford parking plan that includes paying to park in eight downtown parking lots owned by the city. One resident has even filed a civil suit to prohibit charging to park in these lots. To discuss concerns, the Biddeford City Council is hosting a community meeting on the issue, at 6 p.m. Monday at the Biddeford High School Little Theater.

According to a post on the city’s website,“The purpose of the meeting will be to answer any questions, clarify any confusion, present an overview of parking-related issues facing the community, and show how various projects and issues are connected and how the city is responding to these issues.”

In an email on Tuesday, Mayor Alan Casavant, a proponent of the city’s parking management plan, or PMP, said people have raised a number of concerns about the PMP.

“There is some confusion regarding the parking changes and the rationale,” he said. “Many people, for example, still think that we are installing parking meters on the streets, which of course is not the case. That is the biggest issue. Once that gets explained, things fall into place. I emphasize that parking remains free on all of the streets in the downtown, and that the council has attempted to create a better system for shoppers and diners (by) creating more turnover parking spaces, as opposed to spaces that were being utilized all day or all night by individuals within the downtown. We see an increasing amount of vehicles in the downtown, but a finite amount of available spaces, so that is a problem.”

On Nov. 1, portions of the PMP were put into place, including more time limited parking, and other changes, but because of an equipment delay, paid permitted parking in city lots will not go into effect until Dec. 1.

Before city councilors approved the PMP, a number of downtown business owners objected to charging for parking it city lots, saying they thought it would hurt their business.

One of the those individuals, Louis Pizza owner Rick Robitalle, still has concerns. His business, located at 52 Franklin St., is across from the Franklin/Federal streets lot. Beginning Dec. 1, the city will begin charging to park in that lot.

While several 15-minute free spaces have been designated in that lot, which can be used by customers picking up food from Louis Pizza or the nearby George’s Sandwich Shop at 37 Franklin St., Robitalle said the number of free spots are not enough.

Delivery accounts for 65 to 70 percent of his business, Robitaille said. There are too few free spots too handle the number of people picking up food from the two businesses as well as for his delivery vehicles, he said, and that doesn’t even include people who want to park and eat at Louis Pizza who need more than 15-minute parking.

Robitaille said when he moved his business several years ago around the corner from Alfred Street to the current Franklin Street location, he invested in a “nice dining room” with televisions and other amenities to attract a dine-in clientele.

But, he asked, “who is going to pay $1 to park to eat a $5.25 pizza?”

On Thursday night, Robitaille said he and representatives from George’s Sandwich Shop were scheduled to go before the Downtown  Committee to ask for additional free parking spaces. The Downtown Committee was established, said Chief Operating Officer Brian Phinney, to address parking issues related to the PMP in the short term with the Biddeford. City Council in charge of significant, long term parking matters.

Robitaille said he would like two spaces next to his business specifically for use by his delivery drivers. In addition, he said, “I want as many (free) parking places,” as possible.

He said he recognizes he has to work with the city, but that he opposes paid parking in the parking lot near his business because it might prevent people from dining in his restaurant.

“This is very different from what my dreams are supposed to be for this business, the idea is to get people to eat inside,” he said.

Robitaille isn’t alone in his opposition to paying for permits to park in downtown, city-owed lots.

Biddeford resident Jason Litalien filed a complaint in York County Superior Court in Alfred to prevent the city from charging to park in its downtown parking lots.

Litalien’s objection references a referendum that voters overwhelmingly passed in November 2014 to prohibit installing parking meters in the downtown.

According to the complaint, “organizers of the referendum stated that the intent of the question was not only to prevent the city from installing parking meters in the downtown area, but to prevent all paid parking, which the citizens believed would harm local businesses.”

The city disagrees with Litalien’s interpretation of the referendum.

A press release issued by the city Oct. 24, after the complaint was filed with the court, says that the PMP is consistent with the referendum because the plan does not charge for short-term, high-turnover, on-street parking on Main Street and other feeder streets into the city’s downtown and mill district.

In addition, the city filed a motion to dismiss the case on Nov. 13, saying that Litalien’s suit was filed too late. His complaint was filed Oct. 23. The city’s motion outlines that according to the Maine rules of Civil Procedure complaints seeking review of governmental action must be filed within 30 days of that action.  The action Litalien’s compliant addresses occurred Sept. 4, which is more than 30 days prior to his filing suit.

The PMP was adopted after the Biddeford City Council began serious discussions to finance and construct a parking garage in the mill district on the site of the former Maine Energy Recovery Company trash incinerator. No final vote on this issue has been taken.

According to city staff, the PMP and garage are needed because there aren’t enough parking spaces in Biddeford’s downtown and Mill District to meet the current and projected demand.

The existing parking supply in the combined mill district/downtown area contains 2,889 combined public and private spaces.

With an existing demand for 4,200 parking spaces, there’s a deficit of 1,311. With full build-out in both the downtown and mill district areas, the supply remains the same but the demand increases to 5,122, and the deficit grows to 2,233. If the 3 Lincoln St. project is also developed — and the city announced earlier this year that a development plan for the site is in the works — both the demand and deficit increase by nearly 1,000.

Progress on the possibility of building a publicly-owned parking garage is taking place.

It is anticipated that the council will have another vote in December on the garage,” Mayor Casavant said. “The council will be asked to go out for bids, as we have been having design work done and engineering over the last several months.  We seem to be on track for final votes to build the structure.

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be reached at 780-9014 or [email protected]

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