BIDDEFORD — Frustration was evident at a meeting Wednesday night where residents told officials they are fed up with the city’s paid parking plan.

Sue Sexton of Biddeford spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting opposing the city’s controversial paid parking plan. Sexton called on the city to scrap the plan entirely. Ed Pierce/Journal Tribune

Some city councilors, Mayor Alan Casavant and City Manager Jim Bennett listened for an hour and a half as residents and business owners affected by the parking changes said the plan is out of touch and runs counter to what residents expressed in a 2014 referendum when they overwhelmingly voted against putting parking meters in the city’s center.

A petition was filed with the City Clerk’s Office requesting the meeting in the Little Theater at Biddeford High School. No city officials spoke and Casavant said points raised by residents would be considered by the City Council.

Bruce Martin of Biddeford said the parking plan shows how out of touch Biddeford officials are with the constituents they are supposed to represent.

“I’ve never been so disgusted in my life,” Martin said. “They get into office and lose sight of who they’re working for. The City Council took power away from the people. Do something.”

When the paid parking plan was launched, city officials said it was needed to provide short-term, high-turnover parking options for those visiting downtown to eat or shop; to raise money to maintain downtown streets and parking lots; and because there wasn’t enough parking to go around. They cited parking studies that found there is demand for 4,200 parking spots, but only 2,889 combined public and private spaces in downtown and the adjacent mill district.

Business owners said the paid parking controversy is affecting their bottom line and giving the city a poor reputation.

Stacy Cooper, owner of Biscuits and Company of Alfred Street, said her restaurant is being affected.

“From the beginning, I tried to stay neutral on the parking situation,” Cooper said. “I’m here because of what I’m hearing and the impact from the parking situation. Every day my customers tell me about their parking situation confusion. Many customers say they won’t come downtown without a reason. There are a new wave of tourists coming in who are surprised to see the changes.”

Cooper said she is paying more than $1,500 a year for her employees to park and is seeing fewer customers since paid parking was started.

When paid parking was first introduced in December, the short-term rate was $1 per hour to park in city lots with a $30 monthly permit for a Monday through Friday pass, $20 for a nights and weekends pass; and $40 for a 24/7 pass.

But those rates were increased on May 1 to $2 per hour, and $50, $35 and $65, respectively. The Alfred Street parking lot, the lot at 17 Franklin St., a lot on the corner of Franklin and Washington streets, the Federal Street parking lot, the Foss Street lot, the Gas House parking lot on Water Street, the Washington Street parking lot and the wastewater parking lot on the corner of Water and Pike streets are affected by the plan.

Biddeford resident Sue Sexton, of Grady’s Radio and Satellite TV on the corner of Main and Alfred streets, asked councilors and the mayor to scrap the paid parking plan.

“Let’s reconsider this parking thing and give people a place where they’re happy to live,” she said.

Jason Litalien of Biddeford, who served as moderator for the meeting, filed a lawsuit against the city to prohibit charging to park in city-owned lots. The lawsuit was dismissed in May because he waited too long to challenge a city vote to approve the plan and should have filed his suit within 30 days of that vote.

Litalien filed another suit on May 24 claiming that implementation of the parking plan is a direct violation of the First Amendment rights of the citizens of Biddeford by disregarding the binding 2014 referendum.

Biddeford resident Grady Sexton said paid parking is hurting downtown business opportunities in the city.

“For people wanting to rent downtown, by not having free parking, they’re not going to come,” he said. “Paid parking is going to be the death of downtown. It’s not going to increase business, it will negate business.”

After the meeting, those attending voted to present an order to the councilors “that instructs the City Council to remove the parking meters installed downtown and prohibit the city from charging for parking within one mile of Biddeford City Hall. Furthermore, the order will instruct the City Council that it may not charge for parking within one mile of City Hall unless the referendum from 2014 that prohibits parking meters is overturned.”

Ed Pierce – 282-1535

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