TOPSHAM — The Topsham Planning Board approved last week, for the second time, plans for a controversial parking lot off Thomas Avenue.

The lot would provide parking for the Hillside athletic field, which now only has parking on Foreside Road and is difficult to access for those with disabilities.

The town found room for parking after clearing away dead trees by the field as part of its forestry plan. 

The planning board first approved the parking lot in July 2018. However, the decision was appealed by Karen Murphy, a resident representing the Arbor Avenue subdivision. The zoning board of appeals granted the appeal, finding that the town’s ownership of the access way between the proposed parking lot and Thomas Avenue was unclear. 

With the ownership question cleared up at the May town meeting, the proposed parking lot went to the planning board again last week. The board approved a 40-space gravel parking lot which will have a locked gate, Parks and Recreation Director Pam Leduc said. The gate will be open for evenings and weekends when recreation activities are scheduled. 

LeDuc said the town hasn’t held as many sporting events on the field as others because of the lack of access. A dirt road to the field provides three handicap parking spots, but it isn’t enough, she said, and cars are forced to park along Thomas Avenue.

“To us, it’s a question of accessibility to all residents,” she said.  

The number of people participating in the town’s athletic programs is increasing, LeDuc said. Using the field more will allow for a better rotation of all the fields, and for the town to aerate, seed and fertilize all of the fields equally, she said. 

Arbor Avenue neighbors argued the parking lot could increase traffic, lower property values and increase crime as well as trash in the area. 

“The town intends to deal with any of the traffic concerns and facility concerns that may come forward,” LeDuc said last week.

LeDuc said the town went out to bid for the parking lot after the planning board granted initial approval, but the bid process was put on hold due to the appeal. Selectmen will have to determine if the town will go out to bid again, she said.

[email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.