Downtown merchants parley on paid parking, pot proposal

By Stephen Betts | Apr 10, 2018
Photo by: Stephen Betts The Custom House parking lot in downtown Rockland.

Rockland — Downtown business owners were unified in their opposition to the city's charging for parking downtown and were generally in support of the planned opening of a medical marijuana store.

Merchants gathered Tuesday morning, April 10, at C'est La Vie for the monthly morning meeting of Rockland Main Street Inc. Among the issues discussed were the possibility of the city's charging for parking at the downtown Custom House parking lot; as well as the proposal by Nick Westervelt to open a medical marijuana processing plant and a glass shop that will sell marijuana paraphernalia at the former First Baptist Church at 500 Main St.

About 40 spaces in the Custom House lot, located between School and Limerock streets, are now limited to two hours of free parking. Thirty other spaces are set aside for downtown businesses that pay $40 per month for permit parking.

The Parking Advisory Committee has looked at many options, including setting up a kiosk at the entrance to the lot and charging people using the lot based on how long they stay.

City Manager Tom Luttrell said last week if this project is undertaken at the Custom House lot, it could be extended to other city lots, such as Winter Street.

Lorain Francis said her immediate concern was for parking for employees. She said the majority of downtown workers are lower-income and that charging for parking would be an added burden on them. Paid parking downtown would also make it more difficult for businesses to attract workers, she said.

Heidi Neal, owner of Loyal Biscuit, said 90 percent of her business is from local people who stop in for short times.

"This would be another deterrent to people coming downtown," Neal said.

Joan Wright of Art Space Gallery said a four-story parking garage where the Custom House lot is located is needed. In addition, Wright said that if a garage is built, parking for downtown employees should be free.

David Grima asked why the city has not considered past suggestions to provide downtown employees free parking passes.

Rockland Main Street Inc. Executive Director Gordon Page said he would be working with Rockland Parking Advisory Committee Chair Greg Pinto to develop a survey that could be sent out to downtown members.

The issue of the proposed medical marijuana store at 500 Main St. also was discussed, and downtown members were divided on the issue.

Rockland Code Officer John Root pointed out that the City Council adopted an ordinance earlier this year to allow medical marijuana operations in the downtown and on the waterfront. He said if Westervelt's proposal meets the standards in the ordinance, the city must approve it.

The only way to change that would be if the council changed the ordinance, he said.

A public hearing on Westervelt's plan will be held May 1 before the Rockland Planning Board.

A letter from Robert Arena, owner of the building at 497-501 Main St., was read in which he announced a call to arms to oppose the marijuana business. Arena said Main Street is known for its art, restaurants and family fun, not for "weed." He said it would bring Main Street down a notch.

Ariel Hall of Periscope said she fully supported Westervelt's plan.

Wright said medical marijuana is needed and she considers the proposal a good thing.

Barrie Pribyl said she, too, supported the location of the business, saying it needed to be convenient.

Westervelt attended the April 10 downtown meeting and discussed his plans. He said the backyard of the property would be cleaned and the fence repaired.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Rachel Belanger | Apr 11, 2018 21:18

Walmart does not charge for customer parking.  Thomaston does not charge for parking.  Rockport does not charge for parking.  Camden doesn't charge for parking.  All will look more inviting to shoppers.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Apr 10, 2018 15:05

Why don't Main Street merchants stop parking in front of their own businesses? Ger a grip. When Main Street gets done every time some brainiac cuts out more parking spots. Why not give everyone in Rockland a free ice cream and maybe shut us all up with the Main Street attitudes.

Posted by: Dale Hayward | Apr 10, 2018 15:02

Main St., is up in arms, they are offended with the idea of parking meters there and not all over the city. How interesting Mr. Watson.

Posted by: Amy Files | Apr 10, 2018 15:02

Free parking for downtown employees sounds like a nice thing, in theory... except that... do you give free parking to all employees on Main Street? Because some people live downtown and could walk or bike but choose to drive, mostly out of habit. I know that does not apply to everyone but I do know plenty of people who live downtown and still drive a few blocks to work when they could be walking or biking. Free parking for these folks would not be appropriate and only encourage more driving which is not beneficial to the City or health of our residents.

Having lived in other cities, I am not aware of parking as a benefit being given out freely by a City to businesses, simply because they are located downtown.

I do find it odd that the City is proposing paid parking for a parking lot when it would seem that most cities charge first for parking that is premium == on-street == like on Main Street -- and then provide free or lower cost parking in parking lots.

No matter what we decide to do, I would hope that the City would fist do some research on parking and urban planning, and then offer solutions based on best practices and what other cities have done in order to meet whatever goals are driving this discussion (which don't appear to be clear right now).


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