The Biddeford City Council will consider a recommendation Tuesday to hire a consultant to review the city’s downtown parking program.

The recommendation to hire a consultant comes from the Downtown Committee, which was created to respond to issues related to downtown parking. The city implemented a parking management plan last year that includes hourly paid parking in downtown lots, as well as permits for longer-term parking in designated areas.

City leaders implemented the parking plan amid an economic resurgence in Biddeford’s downtown, leading to higher demand for parking. But the plan’s rollout didn’t come without controversy.

Since the changes went into effect in November, one resident has filed two lawsuits against the city, several downtown business owners have hung signs in their windows protesting the changes and more than 100 voters have signed a petition to force the City Council to hold a meeting about parking concerns.

Councilor Michael Ready, who serves on the Downtown Committee, made the motion last month to recommend the City Council instruct the city manager to release a request for bids for a parking consultant. He said it would be beneficial to have an expert review the parking plan and changes that have been made, then make recommendations to ensure the city is making the best decisions in regard to parking.

“We’ve been operating this system for close to a year now, and we still seem to be making adjustments on the fly,” Ready said. “I’m not sure the adjustments we’re making are the right adjustments.”

Brian Phinney, the city’s chief operating officer, said that, since the city has not budgeted for a parking consultant, it is premature to speculate where the money would come from to pay for it if the City Council votes to have the city manager issue the request for bids. Depending on the amount, the City Council might have to take another vote to authorize the expense.

Whitney Graham of Durham, left, and Jenna Larochelle-Parry of Hollis commented in June on how they used to park for free in Biddeford. “I felt $2 was a little steep,” Graham said after they parked in a lot downtown. “That’s more expensive than Portland.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Mayor Alan Casavant, who also is on the Downtown Committee, said he voted in favor of Ready’s motion by mistake because he didn’t properly hear the language. While he supports taking a look at parking in the area of Lincoln and Pearl streets, he has reservations about doing a citywide review because that work is not budgeted, he said.

In response to downtown business owners who are concerned customers can’t easily get to their establishments, the Downtown Committee made several changes to the parking plan. That includes adding free, short-term parking spots near popular businesses like George’s Sandwich Shop and Louis Pizza.

To further address complaints that some downtown parking areas are confusing for people to navigate, the city recently reconfigured parking lots on Federal and Franklin streets. Those changes made the lots easier to navigate while adding hourly parking spaces, city officials said.

Members of the Downtown Committee were concerned that changes made for one business could have negative impacts on other businesses, Casavant said.

“The committee felt that perhaps it would be best to have a consultant do an overview and make a plan that is a blueprint, instead of a reaction to individual needs,” the mayor said. “We’ve reacted to those needs on a case-by-case basis. That’s the way it’s always been done.”

Discussion of hiring a consultant came up when the Downtown Committee was discussing parking near Lincoln Street, where a major redevelopment project at the Lincoln Mill is slated to begin this year. When developer Tim Harrington starts that project, as many as 200 workers will be on site, Casavant said. That means parking spots near the Lincoln Mill, now used by patrons and employees of nearby businesses, will no longer be available.

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