Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 15, 2012
Designing the downtown streetscape
Planned infrastructure work gives “once in a lifetime opportunity”
The placement of pedestrian crossings, along with benches and lighting, can lend a more pedestrian—and less vehicular—feel to downtown streets, said Paul Brody, a landscape architect with WBRC of Bangor.
by Anne Berleant
With sewer and water lines and drainage work on Main, Water and Sea streets planned for early 2014—part of Phase II of Castine’s master plan for facilities improvement—the town has “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to change the look and feel of its downtown area, said Town Manager Dale Abernethy.
At a November 8 meeting, Bill Olver, president of Olver Associates, the Winterport engineering firm hired to design and implement the infrastructure improvements, asked downtown business and property owners what they would like downtown to look like.
“What you’re going to see above ground is really a small part of the project,” said Olver, but as “downtown stakeholders,” business and property owners should help decide the design of the streetscape.
“What does success look like to you?” he asked, suggesting that changes to downtown parking, sidewalks, streets, lighting, benches—all the elements that determine the streetscape of a given area—should stem from the answer to that question, or at least allow for those kind of changes in the future.
The answer from the 15 or so people who attended the meeting was first, everyone in the community should participate in the decision, not just downtown merchants and property owners; second, downtown parking was a top priority; and third, they wanted to see specific design proposals.
At the meeting, Olver presented five “concept” plans that differed in street and sidewalk widths and available parking spaces, and landscape architect Paul Brody of the architectural firm WBRC of Bangor showed slides of different downtown streetscapes as a starting point.
Changing the streetscape could be as simple as a “freshen-upper” of paint and new curbing to a reconfiguration of parking, pedestrian crossings, benches and lighting, said Brody.
Redesign of a streetscape leads into economic development, he said. “What do you want to happen with downtown Castine?”
Where—and if—crosswalks, benches and lights are positioned can make a downtown area more pedestrian and less vehicular, along with sidewalks that invite walking and resting.
“People make a healthy, vibrant downtown,” said Brody, with people watching “a huge part” of that streetscape.
“Design takes this into account,” he said, along with walking, driving, snow removal, trash collection and parking needs.
“The most unsightly thing downtown is that nest of single and double wires going everywhere,” said one person in attendance.
The cost of burying utility wires underground would be around $300,000, said Abernethy. “That’s hugely expensive, but it might be the best investment this town ever made.”
“Do you want to make it nice because you live here or to generate economic energy?” asked Brody. “Underground utility wires are not going to feed into economic development.”
Main Street business owners at the meeting agreed that sidewalks on both sides of the street needed to be fixed but not necessarily widened, which could cut into available parking.
The current parking layout, which Olver described as “random, kind of like the Wild West,” allows for 63 spaces downtown.
“You’ve got kind of a free-for-all for parking now,” said Olver.
The five concept designs presented at the meeting cut at least seven of those spaces.
The question is, how much parking are you willing to lose, said Brody.
“We’ve got a parking problem as it is,” said Lucky Hill co-owner Dan Graziano.
Phase II of the master facilities plan would address underground utilities on Main Street, Water Street, Stevens Street, Dyer Lane, Sea Street, on Court Street from Main Street to Tarrantine Avenue and on Perkins Street between Pleasant Street and Main Street. Portions of village facilities are over 100 years old and in poor condition.
Abernethy estimates a project cost of $4 million.
If approved at 2013 town meeting, the work would be put out to bid by the end of that year, with work beginning early 2014, stopping for the summer tourist season, and then finishing “before the snow flies,” said Abernethy.
Olver will hold a public meeting in early December, with Brody to present concept drawings that Selectman Gus Basile asked to range from bare bones to medium to “all out,” with estimated costs of each.