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Public hearing set for proposed off-street parking changes

By Susan Mustapich | Jun 08, 2021

CAMDEN — Planning Board members hope to hear public comments about proposed changes in off-street parking at a hearing set for June 17.

The hearing takes place at 5 p.m. on Zoom Video Conferencing.

Current parking rules require downtown business owners to have a certain number of parking spaces reserved in parking lots. Business owners meet this requirement by leasing spaces in private parking lots for employees and customers.

The current system was put in place to free up parking spaces on Main, Elm and Bay View streets, so visitors and residents can park on the street near downtown stores and restaurants, according to reports on Village Soup.

Select Board members asked Planning and Development Director Jeremy Martin to draft changes to the parking ordinance. The Planning Board and Select Board discussed a first draft of the changes May 20 and June 1, respectively.

On June 3, Planning Board members went through a revised draft of the proposed changes line-by-line, before voting 5-0 to hold the public hearing.

The proposed changes affect the downtown business and transitional harbor business zones.

One significant change is off-street parking will no longer be required in these zones for restaurants with seating for fewer than 150 customers, retail stores, business and professional offices, personal service establishments and banks and sports and fitness centers. Outside of these districts, current off-street parking requirements are unchanged.

For restaurants with 150 or more seats, one off-street parking space will be required for every 8 seats and for each 16-foot section of bench seating. This is a 50% reduction in off-street parking required by the current ordinance. Outside of these districts, parking requirements are unchanged.

Off-street parking for lodging establishments remains unchanged and is not waived in the two districts.

During the June 3 meeting, board members asked Martin questions about the current parking ordinance and what he thought the impact of the changes would be, if approved by voters.

Pat Chen asked about one of the requirements of the current parking ordinance, which is that owners of private parking lots send the town inventories detailing spaces leased to private businesses for off-street parking.

Martin said in his three years with the town he has not seen one of those come in.

"It’s a great question because there are a lot of things that get put into zoning ordinances that people may think make sense, but in the end, a lot of these things don’t make sense," he said.

He described the process where restaurant and lodging owners renew victualer's licenses annually and include their off-street parking. He goes through the information supplied each year and compares it to the previous year's information. Martin said for retail businesses, there is no tracking by the town, and he does not know of any town that does this.

Requiring each retail businesses and smaller restaurants to maintain off-site parking for customers does not make sense, when people are often visiting numerous businesses downtown, he said.

Martin and Code Enforcement Officer Rosie Curtis are noting processes in the town's ordinances that are not practical, are not being used or do not make sense, as they go through ordinances, in preparation for future revisions.

Planning Board member Andrew Smith asked what Martin thinks will be the consequences of the off-street parking changes.

"It’s difficult to forecast what going to happen downtown after these changes," Smith said. Chen agreed she had similar questions.

Martin thinks things will not change that much and the town won’t see much impact for a number of reasons. One is he believes businesses that lease parking spaces for employees will continue to lease those spaces.

Another reason is the town now has about 200 free parking spaces in lots on Washington, Mechanic and Knowlton streets. The town has a lease purchase agreement with the owner of the Knox Mill for the Knowlton Street lot which has over 100 spaces.

Town office staff who work in the Opera House building at the corner of Elm and Washington streets are no longer parking in the lot between the building and Long Grain Restaurant. The parking spaces there will become 2-hour spaces. Martin said. Staff are now parking in the Knowlton Street lot, at least until the colder months.

He pointed out there is also more parking available in the evening in downtown Camden for restaurants and retail stores after employees working in offices go home.

Following the June 17 Public Hearing, Planning Board members will vote on whether to move the proposed ordinance changes to the Select Board. The Select Board could then discuss the proposal, hold a public hearing and move the changes to a public vote.

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