Shown is a rendering of a parking garage that the Biddeford City Council has approved to build at 3 Lincoln St. FILE PHOTO

BIDDEFORD — On Tuesday night, the Biddeford City Council voted 5-3 to begin the process of building a parking garage at 3 Lincoln St., a project that has many residents concerned.

The decision allows Biddeford City Manager James Bennett to begin a joint development agreement with Treadwell Franklin Infrastructure Capital Partners and the James W. Sewall Company, which will form Biddeford Innovations Inc. in order to run and build the garage as well as complete the next phase of the city’s RiverWalk.

According to the proposal, the 640-space garage will be built using Mill District Tax Increment Funding, as well as user revenue and is projected to cost between $21 and $25 million.

The parking garage proposal has been a heated issue among residents for the past year, and before the vote, many who spoke asked the council to listen to the people’s opinion before making a decision.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the council conducted a workshop in order for residents to learn about the parking garage plan as well as voice their opinions and concerns, and the majority who attended said they were wholeheartedly against a garage at the 3 Lincoln St. location.

In their dissent, council members Robert Quattrone and Laura Seaver said that they were compelled to listen to that majority.

Quattrone had done some campaigning on the previous day and found that out of the 64 people he asked, 37 said that they weren’t in favor of the project.

“The comments I got for the no’s were that ‘It should be put out to vote,’ It’s not needed,’ ‘If you build it, I won’t be able to use it, can’t walk that far,’” he said. “And with the majority of the no votes people felt as though it was in the wrong location.

He said, “This reinforces my decision. I was going to vote no anyway.”

Jason Litalien, who is running against Alan Casavant for Biddeford mayor, was one of many residents at Tuesday night’s city council meeting who said they were opposed to the parking garage project, which the council approved by a 5-3 vote. JOURNAL TRIBUNE/Catherine Bart

Seaver said that she felt many questions concerning costs and projections had not been fully answered, and many residents who she had spoken with weren’t sure if Lincoln Street is the best location.

“My belief is that I should listen to my constituents,” she said. “A lot of the people who are against this particular project aren’t even against having a garage downtown. A lot of these people are concerned that this is not the right project for Biddeford.”

Council member Norman Belanger had a different take on this, saying that he would vote based on what he felt was right for Biddeford.

“This particular proposal will increase our tax revenue,” he said. “From new development $16 million in 10 years and that’s $16 million that doesn’t come out of the residential taxpayers’ pockets. That is a substantial amount. Assume it’s wrong by half. That’s still $8 million coming in.”

Agreeing with Belanger, council member Stephen St. Cyr said that if the decision to build a garage were to be put off or rejected, he feared it would come back again at some point, which would hinder economic growth and future downtown projects.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the garage is needed,” he said. “Every year I’m putting it off, I’m also putting off other projects.”

City Council President John McCurry, who voted no on the project, said that he felt credit enhancements were bad items.

Many residents who spoke during the meeting were unsure how the project would be benefitting the taxpayers and homeowners.

Delilah Poupore, a resident and director of the Heart of Biddeford, said that Heart of Biddeford’s take on the matter was simply to encourage the council to find a parking solution for the town, but she personally believed that needed to be done in a way that could help everyone.

“I know that as you increase the tax base, that does help all the taxpayers, all the homeowners, but are we also thinking about all the ways that people need services and support throughout the whole city,” she said. “I think it is possible to do all of these things for everyone. People are asking you to think about everyone in Biddeford.”

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant addressed the residents’ fear of tax increase and said that there were more parts to this project than just the garage.

He said that the city needs to take advantage of that economic growth and development.

“One of the biggest issues we always face is the fear of raising taxes,” he said. “Sometimes it inhibits the thought of our ability to take a leap forward. Is there a risk? Probably. But do you know what the greater risk is? Doing nothing.”

On Wednesday, Jason Litalien, who is running for mayor, posted on Facebook that a referendum petition could challenge this vote, which needs 2,500 signatures by Monday, Sept. 23.

“The people against the garage are being painted as a vocal minority,” the post said. “I don’t believe that it is a minority and I still view the deal as bad. It is built on the hope that developers will flock here once the garage is built, but even the first building to house employees won’t be started until after the garage is completed.”

— Staff Writer Catherine Bart can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9029.

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