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Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Stonington, Maine.
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by Alice Wilkinson
A small group of Stonington residents showed up at the December 3 selectmen’s meeting to express opposition to a proposed expansion of downtown parking.
The proposal, first presented at the November 19 selectmen’s meeting, was prompted by an offer of a gift of land and an easement by Mimi Gerstell, owner of the Tewksbury Building next to the town hall.
The offer, which the town will vote to accept or reject at a special town meeting on December 11, has several parts, but before anything can be done the town must accept the gift. For more information on the special town meeting, see accompanying story on page 1.
One part of the proposed deal gives the Stonington Sanitary District an easement to put two 4,000 gallon tanks on land behind the town hall, which would eliminate the overuse of an 11,000 gallon tank already in the ground under the road. The tank is no longer big enough, with the increased use of water resulting from apartments upstairs in the Tewksbury Building, as well as the Harbor Café.
Another part of the plan would enable use of the land behind town hall for parking. Currently there is space for two cars, but with the land gift and grading, there would be space for eight cars, plus three handicapped spaces immediately behind the building.
A third part of the plan is to re-route storm water runoff from the hill, which is currently eroding the basement of the town hall and causing problems for the Tewksbury Building.
Town Manager Kathleen Billings-Pezaris said a major reason for needing the parking is that access to the back of the building where there is a handicapped-accessible ramp is difficult. The current handicapped parking space is alongside the town hall, in the driveway, on a slope.
In the proposed plan, an easement across the back of the Tewksbury Building would provide room for a driveway connecting the current lot on Pink Street, which holds about 12 cars, to the proposed lot. Billings-Pezaris pointed out that without that connecting driveway it would be impossible for a truck to get in to service the proposed tanks.
Gay Atkinson, who works for the Sanitary District, said that relieving the pressure on the 11,000 gallon tank was crucial to improve the Department of Environmental Protection scores for the quality of the water discharged by the SSD. She said not getting the scores down to a more acceptable level could leave the district required to upgrade to a more elaborate system, which, she said, could cost millions of dollars.
The residents who attended the meeting had objections to the parking proposal, which ranged from noise and inconvenience of increased traffic to the problems of run-off from pavement.
Barrett Gray, owner of Boyce’s Motel, objected to the number of proposed additional spaces. “I understand about the septic tank and the handicapped spots, but I do have a problem with the new parking lot,” he said. He continued, noting that there are many parking spots on Memorial Lane and near the Island Community Center. “As an employer [I think] we should have our employees park there. What we have is a laziness issue, not a parking issue.”
Gray said there are two spots in the Pink Street lot currently occupied by cars with flat tires. “I am in favor of half this, but not the eight spots and the through driveway,” said Gray.
Pink Street resident Jeff Boyce said, “That’s going to put ‘em [cars] 20 feet from my house. It’s too much for the neighborhood.”
His daughter Amy Boyce asked “is there no other way to propose a smaller-scale plan?”
Jeff Boyce said that his barn has water running under it which it did not have before the Pink Street lot was built. He alleged a drain was filled and paved over.
Gray said he also had drainage problems in his basement that is a result of the current lot. He asked if the selectmen and the engineer could do a walk-through with the people at the meeting in daylight. Billings-Pezaris said she would schedule it as soon as she could.
After spending an hour on the new parking lot proposal, the selectmen moved on to discuss a new parking ordinance for downtown.
Vicki Zelnick, librarian at the Stonington Public Library, has requested two reserved spaces for library patrons, some of whom can’t walk well. The selectmen discussed the issue and came to a consensus of one space on the Hagan Dock, restricted to half-hour parking when the library is open.
Both Chairman George Stevens and Selectman Donna Brewer said they’d like to see parking gone from the south side of Main Street.
Billings-Pezaris said that she and the clerks in the office get complaints about parking all the time.
Billings-Pezaris said maybe parking should be restricted to two-hour periods from the library to the town office. After pointing out that parking is also an issue of public safety, she asked the selectmen for some guidance.
Ultimately, the board decided that parking on the south side of Main Street should be prohibited from Boyce’s Motel Dock to Atlantic Avenue, which would mean the loss of about four spaces. Parking on the rest of Main Street would be restricted to two hours.
They also want to extend the snow-parking ban to West Main Street.
All the above mentioned issues will be part of the December 11 hearing. No final decisions have been made.
In discussing the final item on the agenda, the Clam Ordinance, the selectmen once again found themselves asking for an increase in the number of out-of-town commercial licenses. The ordinance mandates that for every 10 local licenses sold, one must be for an off-Islander. Interpreting this to mean that only one in ten is allowed, Ray, current chairman of the Clam Committee, said they were doing what they could.
The selectmen pressed for an increase in the number of off-Island licenses, pointing out that another eight would get them out of a financial hole. Currently there are 60 licensed clam diggers on the Island, down from 100 several years ago. Ray said that increasing the number of off-Island licenses would kill the flats, allowing off-Islanders to “piratize” them.
He agreed to go back to the committee and ask about changing the ratio. The selectmen said they don’t want to do anything that doesn’t come from the committee.
The public hearing scheduled for these issues is on December 11 at 6 p.m., immediately before the special town meeting.