On Jan. 3, the Biddeford City Council voted to allow someone with a handicap license plate or placard to park in a space for double the allotted time. ED PIERCE//Journal Tribune file photo

BIDDEFORD — On Jan. 3, the  Biddeford City Council unanimously approved a measure that will allow those vehicles displaying handicapped license plates or placards to park for double the allotted time limit. The new regulation takes effect 30 days after the order was passed.

In November and December, a number of new rules regulating parking in downtown Biddeford have taken affect. The most significant changes include increasing the number of time-limited parking spots and charging for parking in city-owned parking lots.

A number of people have vocally opposed the changes and  one woman in particular has taken issue with the rules regarding handicapped parking because of her medical condition.

In past public statements, Jules Dennison said parking near her Alfred Street apartment has become problematic with the new rules. Dennison’s condition requires her to undergo medical treatments for a long period of time at her home. The changes to the parking rules, she said, have made it harder for her to find a space close to her residence where she can park her car for the length of time she needs for her treatments.

In November at a community meeting at Biddeford High School about the parking changes Dennison said, “I moved to this town because there was free parking.”

The parking changes have made it harder for her to find convenient parking and have had a negative impact on her life, she said.

Dennison was among those who sought to make parking for those with disability license plates or placards unlimited.

On Dec. 18, Dennison spoke in favor of the proposed amendment to do so. So did resident Jason Litalien.

“I think unlimited time limits for handicapped parking is a great idea,” he said. “It helps solve some of the problems created by the council by installing parking meters.”

But when the measure regarding handicapped parking was discussed on Dec. 18, Councilor Michael Ready said he didn’t think it was right to only allow people with handicapped placards or plates to be able to park in any spot for an unlimited time. “In fairness it should be for everyone,” he said.

Council President John McCurry said he has a handicap placard but voted against the amendment because he said he was concerned about abuse by people who had access to a handicap plate or placard even though it didn’t apply to them.

The Biddeford City Council has approve parking changes in the downtown for a number of reasons, such as creating greater parking turnover so that more people can visit local businesses as well as taking the cost of maintaining downtown parking off the property taxpayer and placing it on the users.

By charging to park in city-owned lots it takes that tax burden off the city’s property taxpayers, Councilor Norman Belanger said at a public meeting on the issue on Nov. 19. Prior to the changes, he said, the cost to maintain the downtown streets and parking lots is paid for through the city’s General Fund.

In addition, Belanger said, he believes the new rules will help downtown businesses by providing more convenient parking for customers.

But at that same meeting Matt Swaford, owner of High Rollers Glass and Gifts at 20 Alfred St., expressed the sentiments of many downtown business owners. He said he was against charging for parking in city parking lots because he is afraid it will hurt his business.

The parking plan “is gambling with our livelihoods,” Swaford said.

Whether or not one of the new rules, charging to park in city-owned lots in the downtown, will continue will likely be decided by the courts.

Litalien has filed a lawsuit in York County Superior Court against that rule.

He argues that a citizen referendum passed in 2014 to ban parking meters in the downtown should also ban charging to park in municipal lots.

The case is making its way through the court system.

— Associate Editor Dina Mendros can be reached at 780-99014 or [email protected]

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