News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, May 5, 2022
Select board hears from public on proposed change to traffic flow
Sentiment says no way to one-way

by David Avery

The select board convened a hearing on Monday, May 2, to gauge public opinion about a proposal to make traffic on Perkins Street one-way between Main and Pleasant streets.

Nearly 20 people were in attendance at Emerson Hall or by remote connection, and several spoke, most in opposition to the proposal.

Following the meeting, Town Clerk Susan Macomber and the board scheduled a public information session about the warrant that voters will face at Town Meeting. It will be held Monday, May 9, at 4 p.m. at Emerson Hall. Any questions can be addressed by town officials at that time.

Traffic flow considerations

With respect to traffic flow, John Parish outlined three reasons he opposed the plan. First, it would impact all people who live on the street. Second, he said there was no compelling reason to alter the traffic flow because there were no businesses on the street. And, finally, he opposed the plan because the road signs required are not desirable.

One of the few voices in favor of rerouting traffic on that section of Perkins Street was Ann Miller, who joined the meeting by remote connection. She cited the traffic congestion on that section of Perkins.

Select board member Gordon MacArthur, who has extensive experience in traffic engineering, put together a brief study of the relevant portion of Perkins Street.

The street is only about 20 feet wide, he told the audience. If cars are parked on one side, as they are permitted now, there is no room for two cars to pass, so it is effectively one-way already.

MacArthur was clear to say that he was not indicating that he was in favor or opposed to the change. He was just relaying the facts he uncovered.

Brook Tenney wanted to know who would enforce the one-way regulation. Select board member Peter Vogell said that there was no way to enforce it since Castine does not have a police department.

Resident Joe Slocum also spoke against the proposal because it would cause more traffic to divert toward the area of Water Street and Main Street, which is already the busiest intersection in town.

Debbie Rogers echoed that sentiment when she said that the corner of Water and Pleasant streets is sort of a “blind” corner. More traffic there would not be good.

Resident Tony Politano suggested that most of the issue could be solved with the use of no parking restrictions near the intersection of Perkins and Main streets where visibility is hindered by parked cars.

Vogell suggested a seasonal solution: one-way in summer and two-way in winter. A similar thing was done on Water Street in the past.

Board business

When the hearing concluded, the select board convened their regular biweekly meeting in which they approved general and water department warrants totaling more than $50,000.

The first agenda item was to decide what to do about the change to the traffic ordinance discussed just minutes before. The board decided that no action should be taken at this time.

Their reasoning was that LD2003, a bill recently signed into law in Augusta, would likely have significant local impacts on things like parking in the town streets. The board felt it best to have more information about LD2003 before any decisions about the traffic ordinance were made.

Town Manager Shawn Blodgett explained LD2003 more thoroughly during his report to the board. It is an act “To Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions.”

It is a state-level effort to increase affordable housing in Maine, but its effects at the local level are not known, he said.

The law liberalizes the creation of accessory dwelling units, according to Blodgett. He said Castine’s zoning ordinance would likely have to change, as would our requirements for off-street parking in winter. But it all needs more study, he said.

MacArthur said, “It’s not a good law.” It takes away local control, he said.

Vogell added that the town has created a zoning ordinance and other regulations, but they are being undone by Augusta. “We’ve set it up for what’s best for the town,” he said. LD2003 is doing “just the opposite,” he said.

Blodgett added that the town may need to revisit its rental ordinances in response to LD2003, which has provisions for short- and long-term rentals. “We don’t have a short-term rental ordinance,” he said. Many coastal towns already do.

Blodgett reported on the continued efforts by the Municipal Review Committee to sell the one-time state-of-the-art recycling facility known as Fiberight in Hampden. If no sale is possible, the members of the committee, of which Castine is one, may be asked to purchase the facility.

The cost is unknown at this time, said Blodgett. He referred people to view a video of the April 20 meeting posted at the MRC website if they want to learn more details.

Street sweeping should begin next week, Blodgett said. It will be followed by street striping the following week.

President of the Castine Merchants’ Association, Tony Politano, brought up questions that he thinks should be addressed about the sidewalk proposals on the town warrant. First, he asked the board to address the possible enforcement costs of the proposed ordinance change that would require property owners to remove snow from sidewalks adjacent to their properties.

Second, he suggested the board address where the money for outside legal advice is going to come from because there was no money left in the budget for legal advice.

Politano also announced that a new director for the visitor center has been hired, though he did not reveal the name of the individual because it had just happened minutes before the select board meeting and all the details were not yet settled.

Liz Parish asked what was to be done when the lease for the current resident of the lighthouse on Battle Avenue runs out at the end of June. It seems the current resident is not living there very much anymore, she said.

Vogell said that there would be a public hearing on the matter at the time. Blodgett said that Article 60 of the town warrant addresses the issue of renting the lighthouse. One of the stipulations of the lease will be that the lessee must live there year-round.

On Monday, May 9, there will be a public information session about the Town Meeting warrant. The session will take place at Emerson Hall at 4 p.m.

In response to a communication from the public, the select board addressed the use of masks at Town Meeting. Masks would be strongly encouraged, though not required.

Town Meeting is Saturday, May 14, in the Alexander Field House at Maine Maritime Academy. It begins at 8:30 a.m.

The next regular select board meeting is Monday, May 16, at 4 p.m. at Emerson Hall.