News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 20, 2014
Public views Castine Main Street plan with (mostly) positive eyes

Corner of Court and Main, Castine, Maine

Under a redesign, the corner of Court Street and Main Street could have power lines underground, wider sidewalks and varied paving. A public meeting was held on the Main Street redesign February 18, 2014 at Emerson Hall.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Selectmen voted to fund both the second phase of a Main Street redesign and a plan for burying utility lines during a February 18 meeting and public presentation by the team contracted for the for redesign.

Paul Brody of WBRC Architects/Engineers, Mandy Olver of Olver Associates and residential designer Ted Lameyer explained their concept design and reviewed the results of a Main Street survey sent to taxpayers last November. Over 40 people filled Emerson Hall to watch, listen and comment.

“Currently, this design is designing to the survey results,” said Lameyer.

The concept design presented a Main Street closer to the one of 100 years ago. Sidewalks would run along both sides from Battle Avenue to Water Street, with walkways extended to the street from houses and grass buffers between the curb and sidewalks. Picket fences would replace hedges around yards. A three-way stop sign at Battle Avenue and Main Street would give a moment of pause before entering Castine.

Paving would be varied to narrow the appearance of the street and “bring [the] scale of the street back to the 1900s,” Brody said. Pedestrian scale lighting of historic design would be strategically placed. Disease-resistant elm trees would be planted that would, in time, recreate the canopy that once was.

“The biggest change to this street has been [the loss of] the feeling of elms,” Brody continued. “That canopy has a terrific impact on Main Street.”

Survey responses indicated that historic character rated a close second in importance.

However, the most important part of the design, according to the responses, should be safety.

“The safety apparatus protecting these towns is not from the 1900s,” said Lance Burton, a volunteer with Castine Fire and Rescue. “The size of travel lanes need to address the size of emergency vehicles.”

The design concept proposes nine-foot travel lanes in upper Main Street, with parking on both sides from Stevens Street down to Water Street.

Aerial fire trucks require 26 feet of unrestricted travel lanes, Burton said, and the size of emergency vehicles may change in future years.

“What’s more important? Historic preservation or safety?”

The one major change proposed is to angle parking in lower Main Street in the direction of traffic. This would mean drivers would have to turn around at the town dock to park on the east side, a hazard, Paul Gray pointed out, considering the foot traffic.

However, if the new parking was adopted as part of the plan, it could be reversed, Brody said, by re-painting the lines.

“This is not a final plan, by any means,” said Brody.

Selectmen approved $24,288 for the second phase of the process: the public presentation, review and modification of the design, and continued public hearings.

Also approved was $15,000, for a preliminary plan to bury utilities underground, which selectmen can present at town meeting in May for a vote on funding the project.

“It’s worth trying,” said Lameyer.

Creating a full design plan for the project would cost at least an additional $55,000. The underground utilities project itself is estimated at around $1 million.

“Fifteen thousand is just a drop in the bucket,” said Selectman Gus Basile, questioning the value of funding plans for a project voters have yet to approve.

In the survey responses (around 230 of 730 mailed), about half were in favor of constructing conduits to allow for underground utilities in the future—since sewer and water lines will be replaced or repaired along Main Street—but not funding the overall project.

A vocal minority at the public meeting, and in letters previously sent to selectmen, spoke in favor of burying utilities as part of the redesign.

“If we don’t do it at this point in time, I don’t think it will be done in our lifetime…and will be a lost opportunity,” said David Jones.

In other business, selectmen approved an additional $750 for marketing consultant services—specifically for branding designs—and $300 for social media services, at the request of the Community and Economic Development Committee.

“Why are we spending money on branding?” asked Gordon MacArthur, stating he didn’t see it as an “economic development plan,” funded by voters last year in a motion at town meeting.

Selectmen had previously deemed the language broad enough to cover $1,500 for marketing consultant Barbara Whitten, who presented to the CED on February 13.

“We need to get this sorted out by next town meeting,” said Chairman David Unger.