Originally published in Castine Patriot, February 6, 2014
Castine Main Street team submits latest design proposal
Vogell: “We need to know exactly what they’re talking about”
A new proposed Main Street design recommends breaking the paved travel way into narrower bands using varying pavement mixes, for an historic feel, and angled parking in the direction of travel.
by Anne Berleant
The ongoing debate over how Main Street should look took one giant step forward with the latest proposal available for review at castine.me.us and at Emerson Hall.
A design team comprising Paul Brody of WBRC Architects/Engineers, Olver Associates staff, and residential designer Ted Lameyer submitted their preliminary design proposal and report on January 29, which includes the tallying and analysis of responses to a survey sent by the team to taxpayers last November.
“Everyone had a chance to comment,” said Selectman David Unger at a February 3 meeting of the selectmen.
The survey results will help “get a holistic view, or as much as we can, of where the town residents are on what they want,” Brody said at the time the surveys were mailed.
The team will present and discuss their proposal to the public on Tuesday, February 18, at the 4 p.m. selectmen’s meeting. This immediately follows a 3 p.m. work session outdoors on Main Street with selectmen and Town Manager Dale Abernethy.
“We need to know exactly what they’re talking about before we make any decision,” said Selectman Peter Vogell.
Tax payer response to the survey
Approximately 230 surveys were returned out of the 730 sent, Town Manager Dale Abernethy said at the February 3 selectmen’s meeting. A vote on a Main Street design is set for town meeting on May 10.
“I’m very concerned about so much being done when the quote people from away aren’t here,” said Sherry Auld, who owns property on the corner of Main and Court streets. “Some people are more affected than others.”
The survey asked questions “relating to the size, layout, feel and function that the community wanted for the street,” and was sent “in order to provide all tax payers with the opportunity to have an equal voice in the project,” and to learn their priorities for the redesign, according to the report.
The results order the priority of the different elements of the street design, from most to least important, as:
2) historic preservation,
3) traffic calming/pedestrian experience,
4) maintenance cost and durability,
5) installation cost,
6) vehicle ease of use,
7) retail use, and
8) delivery and service vehicle use including boat transportation.
“A survey is simply a polling of people’s preferences,” said Arnold Berleant at the selectmen’s meeting. “It doesn’t involve any expert information on design.” He called it “unconscionable” to design solely based on survey results. “We’re not designing by vote.”
“[The survey] certainly helps the selectmen,” said Selectman Gus Basile.
Street, sidewalks, curbs, buffers—and parking
With increased sidewalk widths, a green buffer between curb and pavement, and an unchanged pavement width, the proposed design calls for use of the existing rights-of-way on both sides of Main Street in varying degrees.
“We’re still getting clarification on where the right-of-way is,” said Lameyer in a recent phone call. “We aren’t going to go out of the right-of-way, but might go beyond the existing extent of the sidewalk.”
The team is seeking clarification on exactly where the rights-of-way lie. “These things go back to the 1800s,” Lameyer said.
The proposal divides Main Street into three sections, with design variations in each. Curbing will be granite, either sloped or vertical depending on the section of Main Street, with the “goal” of a three-foot green buffer between curb and sidewalk on both sides down the entire street.
The west sidewalk from Court Street to Perkins Street and Perkins to Water Street will be narrower than the east, but wider than it currently is on lower Main Street, and even wider in front of the Trinitarian Church and to allow for pedestrian groups.
On upper Main Street, by Maine Maritime Academy, the west sidewalk will be extended to the MMA walk and possibly to the intersection with Battle Avenue. The sidewalks will be constructed of exposed pebbled stone, in a nod to the historic element of the town.
“In those cases where we feel that either it would be a better design for the next 100 years, we might ask abutters to relocate plantings that might be in the right of way,” Lameyer said. He stressed that “that level of detail” will be addressed at the upcoming meeting.
The proposal contains recommendations for pedestrian scale lights, a lower street elevation, more elm trees and no “painting out” of travel and parking lines.
And, in an attempt “to recreate the scale of the historic streetscape,” the proposal recommends “breaking the paved travel way into narrower bands by using varying pavement mixes. This will give the illusion of a narrow road without actually narrowing the road.”
The proposal recommends up- and down-hill angled parking on lower Main Street to move with the direction of traffic. Two spots may be lost between the entrance to MarKel’s and Castine Variety.
Lameyer explained that, particularly in the downtown area, the design “allows for a certain flexibility” in the direction of the angled parking.
“There’s the ability to make the decision on which way the parking goes down the line.”
A brief history of the redesign effort
The Main Street redesign is a result of improvement work needed on underground village sewer, water and drainage utilities, and is one piece of the overhaul to the downtown area’s infrastructure, based on a plan completed by Olver Associates. Residents voted to fund the $4 million project, the second of a three-phase plan to improve village utilities, at town meeting in 2013.
The current phase focuses on Main, Sea, State and Stevens streets, Dyer Lane and parts of Water, Court and Perkins streets—but it is the chance to change Main Street, the heart of downtown Castine, that has fallen under the microscope of residents.
The first Main Street design proposal submitted by Olver Associates, based on input from downtown merchants and property owners at public meetings, was met with dismay by the citizens-at-large. Castine resident and residential designer Ted Lameyer proposed an alternative plan last August that met with favor among many residents.
The town proceeded to contract with WBRC for a design plan at a cost of $65,000, which included the survey mailed to taxpayers. WBRC then worked with Lameyer and Olver Associates to create the current, preliminary proposal.
“There’s been enough opportunity to come to meetings and speak up,” said Lynda MacArthur at the February 3 selectmen’s meeting. “Soon there has to be a decision and people will just have to live with it.”
“This may be the most thoroughly discussed subject that’s come up in a long time,” said Selectman David Unger.