News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 27, 2013
Castine’s Main Street redesign inches forward
Survey sent to “get things moving”

by Anne Berleant

A survey recently mailed to 700 taxpayers is the next step in determining a new look for Main Street. Sent by WBRC Architects/Engineers, Olver Associates and EHL Design, the 22-page document is “to get things moving again, and get some resolution,” said Paul Brody, chief operating officer of WBRC, in a recent phone call.

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 on June 1.

This second 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, was met with dismay by the citizens-at-large. Castine resident and residential designer Ted Lameyer then proposed an alternative plan, with more green space, narrower streets and different curbing.

The town proceeded to contract with WBRC for a design plan at a cost of $65,000, which includes the survey now underway.

No actual contract for the redesign itself has been signed, Brody said, because 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.”

Once a plan is accepted, voters would have to approve its funding at town meeting in May. Its cost would depend on the final design.

WBRC has submitted a proposal for the whole master project, including the underground facilities, Brody said, but such a contract would be considered “an extension with the previous contract with Olver Associates.”

First, the town “asked us to move forward with a small portion…[to] define our scope of services, so it matches up with what really needs to be done.”

That “small portion” is the length of Main Street from Battle Avenue to Water Street, which the survey addresses.

Exactly where the design plan Lameyer proposed fits into this has not been determined.

Lameyer has put hundreds of hours of work into his proposed design, he said in a recent phone call. Selectmen have discussed purchasing the plan, but nothing had been decided.

“It’s not clear if the town will be in ownership or not,” said Brody. “I haven’t seen Ted’s [design], but I’m very familiar with the concept and ideas because we’ve spoken at fair lengths. My guess we’ll end up with a blending of [Olver’s and Lameyer’s] plans. Pieces of both were appropriate.”

Streets, sidewalks and automobiles

The survey’s final section (“C”) asks what may be the most important questions in terms of reaching a town consensus: to rank from least to most important elements such as pedestrian and vehicle use, cost and, historic preservation; the quantity of parking needed; whether the focus should be sidewalks and streetscapes, or travel lanes and parking; and whether to bury utilities underground.

“There are going to be some answers that we’re going to have to make, some judgment calls on what is practicable or not, or safe or not,” said Brody. “I’m trying to be an impartial facilitator.”

WBRC recommends a design speed for Main Street of 15 to 25 miles per hour. The survey separates the street into three sections: Battle Avenue to Court Street; Court Street to Perkins Street; and Perkins Street to Water Street.

The survey offers two choices for travel lanes—village residential (9 to 10 feet) or town (10 to 11 feet)—and asks if the total street width from curb to curb is too narrow, too wide or “just right.”

It also asks if the respondee is in favor of loading/delivery zones, angled parking and in which direction, and parallel parking widths under or over 8 feet, the minimum common standard.

In addition, the survey tackles sidewalks on east and west sides of Main Street—asking if the respondee favors none, three, four or five feet wide, or “as wide as possible.”

Other questions ask for responses on a grass strip between the sidewalk and street (part of Lameyer’s design), enlarged areas for sitting and gathering in the sidewalk areas, and street lighting and trees.

Once a concept schematic-level plan for the streets, with travel lanes, sidewalks, curb types, utilities, lighting—“the whole package”—is complete, the project will move into the engineering phase, Brody said. “I will be personally involved in that entire process, but there will be a transition of process to Olver [Associates].”

Of the approximately 700 surveys mailed, a stack of “about 20” were returned to WBRC within the first week, he said. Surveys should be returned with a postmark of no later than December 10.