HOB to design parking pamphlet

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By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – The ad hoc downtown parking education committee made an about-face in its decision for parking consultants Rich and Associates to design a brochure summarizing the findings of a 2012 study the city commissioned the firm to conduct. Instead, the committee is turning to Heart of Biddeford to produce the flier’s content and design.

Economic and Community Development Director Daniel Stevenson said because of timing, and the upcoming referendum on parking meters fast approaching, it was important to have a finalized draft.

“The Heart of Biddeford said, ‘Why don’t we go through the plan, break it down, and make sure (the public has) some education before the vote?’” Stevenson said. “They have the capacity internally to put this together and we were just running into a timeline.”

The firm will not get paid $2,500 from the city’s tax increment financing district’s budget for the design as planned, but Stevenson said itwill sign off on the final brochure design “to make sure we’re not misrepresenting the findings of the study.”

Delilah Poupore, executive director for the Heart of Biddeford, a downtown revitalization group that receives $20,000 annually from the city, will not get paid to design the brochure.

Stevenson said Rich & Associates was initially favored to design the pamphlet because the charge from Mayor Alan Casavant, who appointed the committee, was to educate the public about the results of the city’s 2012 parking study. Stevenson had previously said that if his office, or another city entity, designed the flier, it could be subject to criticisms from the public that the literature was trying to influence voters regarding the parking meter referendum.

“If I would’ve summarized it, if Heart of Biddeford does it, if (Downtown Development Commission) does it, people will say the city’s taking a position,” Stevenson said.

Poupore said the Heart of Biddeford has not taken a position on the referendum asking voters whether the city shall install parking meters downtown. However, in a guest column in the Sept. 18 issue of the Courier, Heart of Biddeford board members wrote collectively, “The Heart of Biddeford Board of Directors believe that … parking meters and a parking structure may very well have a place in a parking management system in the very near future … we hesitate to eliminate any option that could help the revitalization. In short, if we limit the options, we limit the possibilities.”

Poupore said the draft brochure consists of two parts: a summary of the parking study and the implications of voting for or against the parking meter referendum.

“The summary highlights charging for parking because that was an emphasis within the parking studies,” Poupore said. “It also includes results from a survey of business owners, employees and customers.”

For example, Poupore said the brochure could include information from the parking study that 50 percent of employers downtown don’t have policies requesting their employees to use offstreet parking.

“We want people to read the parking study and support the results of the study and we want to implement the results of the study,” Poupore said. “Biddeford falls short of the recommendation that the municipality have 50 percent ownership of lots. If we follow from that, there has to be a way for the city to pay for that lot.”

Poupore said the parking study cites research that shows if people are going to park in lots, it has to be less expensive than parking on the street.

“As a hypothetical, if surface lots or a parking structure came into downtown in two years and 18 months into it, funding was needed to pay for the parking structures, how would the city pay for it?” Poupore asked.

Poupore said information will also be included in the brochure about the growth that has happened downtown since the study was conducted in 2011 and reported in 2012. At the time of its release, the study reported that there was enough parking downtown to meet the city’s current needs.

“It’s good for people to know that in the last nine months, 144,000 square feet have been filled by businesses in the Pepperell Center,” Poupore said, “and 19 new businesses have opened in the last two years.”

However, numerous downtown businesses have closed within the last couple years.

Poupore said new information that has surfaced since the study was conducted two years ago needs to be included so people can make an informed decision.

“If anybody reads a pamphlet, it’s going to be up to their conscience on how to vote,” Poupore said.

Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills, who is chairman of the ad hoc downtown parking education committee, said even though the committee’s charge is to educate the public about the parking studies, he believes people are already as educated about the issue as they want to be.

“I think people are educated enough to know what they want,” Mills said.

Stevenson said the committee’s charge from Casavant was to reduce the 30- page parking study into one or two pages so the public can better absorb the information.

“Since (the study) was commissioned by the city, it at least warrants us to break it down one more step so people can digest it,” Stevenson said. “The reality is, people don’t go and read 30 pages. If we can get the essence of the study…

“Meters are part of a parking management system. We don’t want you to garner from the parking study that it’s just about meters, or whether to put meters in or not. It’s a system, of which meters are just a part of. We’re trying to find a way to get the message out the door that the public can look at that is really a summary of the findings of the parking study.”

Brian Keely, chairman of the Downtown Development Commission, said it is a fine line between educating the public about parking and trying to influence them to take a certain position. (Keely is the husband of Courier managing editor Molly Lovell-Keely.)

Speaking as an individual and not on behalf of the commission, Keely said he thought it was inappropriate for the Heart of Biddeford to design the brochure. Although the Heart of Biddeford claims to be neutral on the parking meter referendum, Keely said the group has done everything to urge people to vote yes without explicitly telling people to approve it.

“(Heart of Biddeford) should stay as far away from it as possible,” Keely said. “How would supporters of parking meters feel if the opposition was making the flier? … The ‘implications’ being created by supporters of the referendum should not be a part of it. As a voter, I would like to see unbiased information on both sides, not ‘implications.’”

Poupore said, “We’re not taking a position on the referendum, we’re supporting the findings of the parking study … According to the study, no one is considering meters without a parking management system. It would absolutely not make sense, and no part of the parking study says to put meters in downtown at this time. What the study said is that you do need to have options.”

Stevenson said he doesn’t think including the implications of either outcome of the referendum, in addition to the parking study summary, should be deemed as an attempt to influence voters.

“As long as it’s factual, I don’t think it’s inappropriate,” Stevenson said. “What are the implications if you vote yes or no? It’s not inappropriate. It drives at the parking management system. It’s a binding vote.

“If the vote is yes, meters have to be installed, but the specifics of how and when would be worked out by the council.”

While the parking study itself recommends the installation of parking meters, Poupore argues that supporting the parking study is not necessarily direct advocacy for support of the parking meter referendum.

“The study does mention meters, but taking it to that step may or not be the right thing to do, depending on the timing, the businesses that are downtown and how well the rest of the parking management plan is implemented,” Poupore said.

Stevenson said the final draft of the brochure will have to be approved by the ad hoc downtown parking education committee before going to print. The committee’s next meeting is on Friday, Oct. 10 at 2:30 p.m. in the council chambers.

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2014-10-09 / Front Page

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