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Our downtown is changing and significantly. One of the greatest changes is that there is an increase in the amount of parking that is being demanded. There is no indication that trend is going to stop in the future.
There are two major sources of the increased parking demand. First, a number of the buildings in the downtown that were empty or underutilized have been rehabbed and now occupied. Since 2010, 67,000 square feet of this type of space have been renovated. It is estimated that at least another 50,000 square feet of vacant space still remains. Second, the residential rental market has changed greatly in the downtown. For many years a large share of renters either did not own a vehicle or only had one vehicle. Today, it is more common for renters to have multiple vehicles per unit, including several younger unrelated individuals, each with their own vehicle.
The goals are really quite simple. They are:
Stop having property taxpayers pay 100% of the costs associated with giving others free parking in the downtown; instead require the people that choose to use the space pay for the parking instead. The underlying financial goal is really quite simple. Today all costs associated with parking are paid for by every single property taxpayer. The entire program is designed to shift who pays for parking in downtown - from the property taxpayers to those that use the parking. To be more specific, it is focused on the long term uses of parking spaces in the community, not the customers of the businesses that go into the downtown. Any business (for long term parking only) or rental property that does not provide enough parking for their property’s needs will no longer get that parking free from the community. They can seek private parking alternatives or pay to use the city parking lots.
Continue to provide free and easy to find parking for customers that come into the downtown. It is also important that there is plenty of customer parking available to continue to encourage the customers to come to the downtown. This is probably the most misunderstood part of the parking changes. Throughout the downtown, all short term on street parking remains free. During the hours of 8 AM to 6 PM, most downtown parking is limited to 2 hours. There are a few places that have shorter time limits because of the nature of the nearby businesses. These are FREE. After 6 PM, there is no time limit. However, in some areas, there is no overnight parking from 1 AM to 6 AM.
Have more parking built in the downtown to allow growth in the downtown to continue without impacting residential areas surrounding the downtown. The long term solution to the parking issue is to create more parking in the downtown. A parking garage that will hold between 400 and 625 spaces is currently in the final design stages. This garage will not be paid for using tax revenue from property taxpayers in the community. However, the property taxpayers will receive the benefits of continued growth in the tax base in the downtown. You can read more of those details in other questions.
The good news is a new lot of the growth in taxable property in the community is coming from the downtown area. Since 2014, the taxable value in the downtown has grown by $26,831,204. Assuming today’s tax rate of $19.70, these properties are paying $419,247.95 more in property taxes in 2018-2019 than they did in 2014. These funds have been used by the city in three ways. First, it was part of the reason that the tax rate dropped last year from $20.07 to today’s rate of $19.70. Second, the increase in the homestead exemption (the $394.00 savings that every single-family home owner gets if they filed for the homestead) was paid in part by the increased values in the downtown. Finally, the city is spending (and paying cash) nearly $1,500,000 more annually fixing roads, buildings and replacing equipment than it did in 2014. This has occurred while reducing the tax rate due in part to the increased value in the downtown.
The competition for parking continues to grow in the downtown. As the demand has grown, there are more vehicles parking all day in the downtown. This continues to erode the available parking for customers. We continue to see more all-day parking spilling over into traditional residential neighborhoods. As more property redevelops, the problems will get increasing more difficult. At some point, the parking issue will have an adverse impact on continued growth in the downtown.
This is an argument from some who say that they have been able to park for free forever. By the nature of the argument, it puts the City in a place that requires it to treat groups of people differently. This creates the difficult decision of determining the basic fairness of who gets free service and who will not. Even if making such a decision would be easy, trying to implement such a program would be very difficult. The current program is set up to treat all parties exactly the same. If you want long term parking, you either need to find a private solution for that parking or you can buy those services from the City in the parking lots. Either way, property taxpayers will not be paying for someone else’s parking needs.
The Planning Board did give out some limited parking waivers for redeveloped residential spaces in the downtown. At the time these waivers were issued, there was not the demand that exists today. The Council has put in place a moratorium that does not allow the Planning Board to grant any further waivers
The granting of the waivers did not guarantee anything by the City beyond the permission for the project to get the permits necessary for the project to be constructed. There was no implication of a right to publicly funded parking and certainly not ”free” (meaning that parking is being supported by property taxpayers).
There is a 180-day moratorium in place as of the February 19, 2019 City Council meeting that does not allow the Planning Board to grant any further waivers. In the language of the moratorium, the City Council directs that "the Parking Management Plan which is presented to the City Council for approval include a provision that waivers of downtown parking requirements shall require final approval by the City Council".
After several years of discussions about parking in the downtown, it is hopeful that everyone understands what ”free parking” means. Given that the City has very limited resources, free means a portion of your property tax bill pays for others to park for free. There is growing pressure to create more parking in the downtown. Unchanged, it will be your property taxes that will be used to pay for it. Ironically, a lot of the long-term employees that park for free are not Biddeford residents. The same can be said about the landlords that own the apartments and apartment buildings that do not provide parking for their tenants. Without changing the system, you pay for their parking needs. With this change, when you do come downtown to enjoy the businesses, there will be more no-charge, short-term parking available. Finally, having more public parking constructed in the downtown will continue to allow the downtown to change from what it was 10 to 15 years ago to the path that it is on now. The growth in the downtown has had a positive impact on your personal property tax burden and ensuring an opportunity for continued growth is expected to continue the trend.
The parking changes will not increase your taxes. In fact, the purpose of the parking changes is to shift the cost of maintaining downtown parking from a taxpayer-subsidized model to a user-subsidized model. That means that your tax dollars will no longer be used to maintain downtown parking lots.
The money that is collected from the sale of parking permits will be placed into a special fund that will be used for parking enforcement and downtown street maintenance such as striping, plowing, etc.
In April, we held three public listening sessions to allow residents and members of the downtown community to share their experiences and opinions on downtown parking, Two of these meetings were held in the evening with our City Council, and one meeting was held with staff in the afternoon to accommodate a variety of schedules. In addition, for those who were unable to attend the meeting, an online comment form was posted on our website to collect additional information. A Downtown Parking Survey was also distributed that asked specific questions about parking.
Downtown parking has frequently been discussed at City Council meetings since 2016. As always, these meetings were open for public attendance and comments. You can view the City Council archives by clicking here.
The details of these changes were made widely available to residents through many different channels. To see a complete history of our communication with the public about downtown parking, please visit our interactive Parking Communications Calendar Tool.
Our City Council meeting agenda packets are posted publicly on our website before each meeting. These agenda packets included the proposed orders relating to parking that the City Council first considered at their September 4, 2018 meeting and voted to approve on September 18, 2018. We included the link to these orders in our weekly newsletter, the Biddeford Beat, to bring them to the attention of residents while the City Council was still in the process of deliberating the orders. You may subscribe to the Biddeford Beat by clicking here. Biddeford's Council meetings are always open to the public, and they may be watched live on our website or on the public access channel.
Once the City Council approved the order, we updated the Downtown and Mill District Parking page of our website to reflect the upcoming changes and linked to it in the Citywide Updates tab on the home page of our website. We also sent out a "Front Page News" alert to our email subscribers and posted that alert at the top of the home page of our website to make the information as easily accessible to residents as possible. We also posted the link to this comprehensive webpage on our Facebook and Twitter accounts several times.
In addition, we created a Frequently Asked Questions document that we shared in the Biddeford Beat to our email subscribers. We also distributed a press release to all of the local news outlets, and media reports regarding these changes appeared in the Journal Tribune, on News Center Maine, and on WMTW. Finallly, we created a slideshow for the Public Access Channel to describe the changes to reach the segment of the population that may not have access to our digital updates.
Yes. The City Council has created the Downtown Committee and gave it the authority to quickly make changes to the parking ordinances. This committee will be continuously monitoring the effectiveness of the parking changes and will take user experiences into consideration. Adjustments will be considered and implemented when appropriate.
There are twelve spaces in the Green Lot that have been designated as free 30-minute parking. These spaces are located near several downtown takeout restaurants and have a high rate of turnover. You do not have to use the parking kiosk to park in these spaces. The locations of the 30-minute parking spaces are shown on the map below.
The first two hours of parking in the Yellow Lot is also free. You must enter your license plate number into the parking kiosk in order to park in the Yellow Lot.
Additionally, on-street short term parking remains free.
For questions about Parking Bans and parking lots, please contact Public Works at 207-282-1579.
For questions about parking tickets or kiosks, please contact the Police Department at 207-282-5127.
For questions about payments and availability of parking permits, please contact the Finance Department at 207-284-9333.
Questions about parking policy can be directed to Planning and Development Director Mathew Eddy at 207-282-7119.