June 19, 2018
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John Bapst gets no reprieve from parking crackdown

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — City councilors denied a request Tuesday from the head of John Bapst Memorial High School to put a moratorium on parking enforcement in the area and allow the school more time to find alternatives.

In a 4-1 vote, the council’s government operations committee decided that bending the rules for John Bapst would not be fair to any other entities that have city parking demands.

Earlier this month, city police Chief Ron Gastia directed his patrol officers to prioritize illegal parking not just in the downtown but in residential areas. One of the targeted areas was Broadway from State Street to Somerset Street, which runs directly past the private high school.

“We suggested a moratorium on the issuing of tickets and replacing them with warnings,” School Head Mel MacKay said. “It was meant to be a first step to slow down the process.”

MacKay said he’s worried because school starts next Monday and faculty and students only found out about the parking crackdown recently.

In the discussion that preceded Tuesday’s vote, several councilors concluded that the parking issue in that area of the city is a problem with no real solution. There are simply too few spaces for too many vehicles.

City Manager Edward Barrett said the council, collectively, has expressed interest in a higher level of parking enforcement, which Gastia implemented. “We can’t ignore [illegal parking] in one part of the city while pushing enforcement in other areas,” the city manager said.

Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick called the problem a by-product of Americans’ love affair with automobiles. Councilor Pat Blanchette said parking is one of the biggest complaints the council faces.

Councilor David Nealley, the only opposing vote Tuesday, said he thought the city could consider giving courtesy tickets for the time being to help ease the burden on John Bapst students and faculty.

“It’s not just John Bapst, either,” he said. “There are a number of interested parties who have parking issues. But just throwing tickets on cars is not a solution.”

Gastia referred to parking enforcement as a balancing act, and he readily admitted that the area near John Bapst has not been enforced the way it should in recent years.

In a roughly six-block area between State Street and Somerset Street and between Broadway and Essex Street, there are 280 spaces, half of which are unregulated, which means motorists can park there for an unlimited amount of time. On any given school day, MacKay estimated that more than 200 faculty members and students need a place to park.

“We understand what it means to be a good neighbor, and Chief Gastia and city staff have expressed a willingness to work with us,” he said.

Blanchette suggested shuttling students and staff from larger lots, such as Pickering Square. MacKay said there is no discretionary money to do that.

“Some people say, ‘Why not just build a garage?’” he said. “It’s not that simple.”

In the meantime, all John Bapst students will be told explicitly beginning next week that the city is increasing parking enforcement. Teachers and staff already are aware.

Also on Tuesday, the government operations committee agreed to look into converting about 15 spaces on Broadway near State Street from 1-hour to 2-hour parking to accommodate a local business, Paradigm Properties LLC. Some of those spaces have no doubt been occupied by Bapst students and staff in the past.

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