The elimination of on-street parking, the impact on business during construction, what many said was inadequate opportunity for input, and future maintenance for expanded sidewalks were just a few of the reasons listed by Wiscasset business owners as they pledged to vote against the Maine Department of Transportation’s design proposals for Wiscasset village.
In a letter presented to the Wiscasset Board of Selectmen at its Tuesday, May 31 meeting, about 26 business owners asked selectmen to “help us save our Village and vote for Option 3 ‘to do nothing.'”
The sentiment is not shared by all downtown business owners, with several in attendance supporting the DOT design proposal that would eliminate on-street parking between Middle and Water streets, known as option 2.
During a public meeting in March, the DOT unveiled three new proposals to relieve traffic congestion on Route 1 through the Wiscasset village. The options will be presented to voters in a non-binding question at the annual town meeting by referendum on Tuesday, June 14.
The final decision on which option Wiscasset will choose rests with the board of selectmen.
Options 1 and 2 include the installation of traffic lights at the intersections of Route 1 with Middle and Water streets and expanded sidewalks. On-street parking would be reduced in option 1 and eliminated in option 2.
The third option is to do nothing, in which case the DOT would walk away, and there would be no future proposals for downtown Wiscasset, DOT representatives have said.
During a May 17 public hearing on the warrant for Wiscasset’s annual town meeting, the DOT proposals were the only ones that garnered extended debate, with several business owners denouncing the design plans and the manner in which they were rolled out.
“One of the biggest problems we have is that there was absolutely no input from the people that will be the most impacted,” Paul Mrozinski said.
There were several aspects of the DOT designs that were appealing, and could have been incorporated, with input, into an option 4, business owners said in their letter. Many business owners criticized what they termed the “all or nothing approach” taken by the DOT.
The downtown sidewalks are not shoveled by the town, and many business owners expressed fear that they would be held accountable for the sidewalks’ maintenance, which would expand in both option 1 and 2. If option 2 passes and on-street parking is eliminated, many continued to question the lack of handicapped access, the ability to receive deliveries, and the ability of customers to transport the bulky items downtown antique and art dealers sell.
“This is a year-round fix to a summer issue,” Tim Buckowski, of Showcase Antiques Gallery, said.
Many business owners expressed concern about the impact on their business during the winter months if on-street parking is eliminated, and questioned whether customers would be willing to walk an extra distance in harsh weather.
The beautification element of option 2 would take away elements that make the Wiscasset village unique, business owners wrote in the letter.
Not all downtown business owners shared the concerns expressed about DOT’s design proposals. Three business owners in attendance spoke in favor of option 2 and the possibilities it presents to turn Wiscasset into a shopping destination, and support the businesses on the village’s side streets, such as Water Street.
“We need to move forward,” Julie Groleau, of The Old Salt Books & Gifts, said. Downtown Wiscasset is currently unfriendly to travelers and parking is extremely difficult, she said. Option 2 will not only attract more visitors but also more businesses, she said.
“We’ll miss an opportunity if we pass this up,” Groleau said. “We need to look to the future while preserving the past.”
In response to criticism of the DOT, Selectman Judy Flanagan noted the DOT’s decades of work in Wiscasset and multiple proposals that have been presented throughout the years. “This town is a tough one to talk to about traffic,” Flanagan said. “It can be downright nasty.”
While there are many unanswered questions regarding the DOT’s design proposals, Flanagan expressed confidence they could be worked through and the town would “come out the better for it.”
Selectmen encouraged all residents to turn out to vote Tuesday, June 14; the results of the non-binding referendum question will substantially influence the final decision made by the board, they said.