An upgrade to the downtown Mechanic and Washington street parking lots, stalled by cost overruns and competing ideas, will be discussed again at the upcoming March 26 Select Board meeting.

The meeting takes place in the John French Jr. conference room on Washington Street at 6:30 p.m.

Town Manager Audra Caler-Bell went into the March 12 meeting with an updated design for the parking lots, which are the closest to downtown businesses, along with the Public Landing parking on Chestnut Street beside the Village Green.

The design reconfigures the Mechanic Street parking lot with a single entrance and fewer parking spaces, an ADA-compliant parking space, some new lighting and landscaping, improvement of the retaining wall between the Mechanic and Washington street parking lots and stairs on one side of the wall, so pedestrians can walk between the two lots. The parking spaces in the Washington Street lot are moved away from the sidewalk and street towards the back of the lot.

At a prior meeting in February, Select Board Chairman Bob Falciani and board members directed Caler-Bell and Public Works Director Rick Seibel to work with the contractor who put in the lowest bid to bring the costs down to the $210,000 budget for the work, with a 3-2 vote. Costs were estimated to be around $260,000 at that time. Board members Alison McKellar and Jenna Lookner voted against moving forward with lower costs, because of their objections to the design.

The budget for the parking lot project goes back to the the June 2017 town meeting. At that meeting, voters authorized "facility infrastructure projects, including (some or all of the following): $150,000 for storm drain improvements, $208,000 for the Mechanic and Washington street parking lots and retaining wall, and $50,000 for Montgomery and Seabright Dam repairs. Voters also approved a general obligation bond with a principal amount not to exceed $408,000 to pay for the infrastructure projects.

At the March 12 Select Board meeting, Caler-Bell said that since the February meeting, she and board members had heard concerns about the redesign of the Mechanic street lot, including from downtown business owners. She said the contractor who obtained the parking lot bid was willing to work with the town, so there was some flexibility on discussing the design. She asked Deb Dodge, co-chair of the Design Team, to provide background on the issue of redesigning the parking lot.

Dodge presented an alternative design for the Mechanic Street parking lot with green space, space for a building, and no parking spaces. She said the plan for the parking lot was developed in 2012 as a result of the recommendations for streetscapes and parking in the Camden Downtown Master Plan.

She said the Design Team was working on downtown planning prior to its adoption by the town in 2015. She said there are 625 marked and patrolled parking spaces downtown, and the Knox Mill parking lot adds 140 spaces. She noted that the Mechanic Street lot represents a very small percentage of the total parking spaces.

Rafi Baeza, also a member of the Design Team, presented a plan for a mural to be painted on the side of the building wall, where the Camden House of Pizza is located, on the east side of the Mechanic Street lot.

Andrew Hedrick, engineer with Gartley & Dorskey, explained the parking lot redesign that was bidded out by the town. The spaces are 9 feet wide to meet engineering standards, he said. He explained the design for the turnaround, so cars can safely exit the single-entrance lot. There would be no parking in a 12-foot-deep strip along the back of the lot, which is the building wall where the Camden House of Pizza is located. This area will allow vehicles to exit safely if the lot is full, he said.

Hedrick said Gartley & Dorskey designed the parking lot that is there now, and it was designed to offer the maximum number of spaces, based on the previous engineering standards.

Board member Marc Ratner strongly supported the redesign that Hedrick presented.

Lookner said that since the prior meeting, she had "heard so much negative public feedback and almost no positive." She said she had heard from probably 30 people of all ages and different segments of the community. She said she liked the idea of the mural and beautification, but did not believe she could support the design of a single entrance and loss of parking spaces.

Falciani said one of the flaws of the project was that it was not designed to budget. He said the board could not approve projects that had been subject to design creep, and that projects must be designed to budget.

French & Brawn owner Todd Anderson commented that people were not going to carry milk and groceries up to the public parking behind the Knox Mill, and that downtown parking spaces were worth their weight in gold.