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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Proposal's goal: Fewer cars in Portland

Officials' primary focus is to boost alternative transportation in the city.
By TOM BELL, Staff Writer June 24, 2009

PORTLAND — City officials want to raise money for transit projects, such as new bus shelters and bicycle racks, by charging developers a fee instead of requiring them to create parking space.

The proposal by the Portland Peninsula Transit Study Committee is intended to give developers more flexibility and at the same time aid alternative transportation in Portland.

It's all part of a broader city initiative to make it easier for residents – eventually – to get around the city without a car.

"The presumption is that most households will own a car," City Councilor Kevin Donoghue told planners at a workshop Tuesday. "But the hope is that fewer people will use them to commute and won't have to keep them at their job."

The Planning Board is examining some of the many recommendations made by the 13-member committee, which wants to reduce the number of single-occupant vehicles and promote alternative forms of transportation.

It issued a report in December, and the City Council is expected to take up its policy proposals this summer or in the early fall.

The panel's proposals include creating more bike lanes and paths; increasing the frequency of bus service and changing bus routes; encouraging car-sharing; expanding the parking lot at the Portland Transportation Center; and increasing the number of park-and-ride locations near the Maine Turnpike and in neighboring towns.

The Planning Board is looking at the proposals that address parking. Those include:

• Adopting a "park once" strategy for commercial development by requiring developers with new projects to share parking spaces with other users in the district. The increased efficiency of sharing spaces would mean fewer spaces would be required for each developer, transit committee members say.

• Separating the cost of housing from the cost of providing parking spaces. Currently, city rules on the peninsula require that developers provide one parking space for every housing unit. As a result, the cost of the housing unit is "bundled" with the cost of parking.

By separating the cost, committee members believe, the housing units and parking spaces could be marketed separately. This would lower the cost of housing for people who don't own cars, but it would give more spaces for people willing to pay for them.

• Allowing developers to pay the city a fee in lieu of providing parking spaces. The revenue would fund alternative transportation improvements or shared parking facilities in central locations.

Planning Board members on Tuesday appeared supportive of the proposals and set a public hearing for July 14.

Christopher O'Neil, the Portland Community Chamber's liaison to City Hall, said that for the most part, developers appear to be indifferent or on board with the proposals. They appreciate the additional flexibility, he said.

Planning Board member Joe Lewis, however, expressed concern that requiring people living in new developments without parking to lease parking elsewhere could make it so expensive that only affluent people will have a place to park their cars.

Senior planner William Needelman said the proposal will not affect the supply of parking spaces and is intended to make housing more affordable.

"This is a policy that puts housing in front of parking," he said.

Donoghue, who chairs the transit committee, said the new parking rules can lower the cost of development because builders won't have to provide as much parking.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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