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A proposal made this week by Bangor officials to close several downtown streets and parking spaces to let restaurateurs and retailers operate there more safely during the pandemic was met with sharp criticism by many downtown businesses.
The measure, which will allow businesses in downtown Bangor to utilize more public space for outdoor dining and retail, included a proposal to shut down part or all of three streets for the entire summer, beginning in June. Those streets include the entirety of Central Street, as well as parts of Broad and Harlow streets.
At Wednesday’s city council meeting, officials voted to allow businesses to temporarily operate in streets, parking spots and other public spaces, and to have city staff expedite the process, rather than having to seek council approval.
Councilors are expected to vote in the coming weeks on potentially shutting down some streets after more discussion.
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Rachel Dobbs, who with her husband, John, owns the restaurant and bar Paddy Murphy’s, said she did not find out about the street closure proposal until Tuesday morning, and that city officials did not contact her or other businesses in the area about the plan. Paddy Murphy’s is located at the corner of Broad and Main streets, and would be directly affected by the Broad Street closure.
“I feel like if the city had time to put a plan like this together, they might have had the time to ask local businesses owners for their input on how these changes might affect us,” she said. “I think many of us were just taken aback by all of this, because we need time to figure out how to do all these things, and to figure out how to handle the financial cost of these changes.”
Josh Parda, who owns Central Street Farmhouse, said he’s not opposed to the idea of allowing certain businesses to have extra outdoor seating or goods for sale in “parklets” set up in parking spaces adjacent to their businesses. He cited traffic problems, loss of street parking and designated curbside parking spots, and lack of close-by access for delivery trucks as major concerns when it comes to shutting down streets.
“I don’t think the wholesale closure of Central Street really works for anybody,” said Parda. “It seems like it would cause more problems than it would solve. Close a lane of traffic on the weekends, sure. Let people have some parking spaces for whatever, sure. Closing the whole thing down? It seems like a bad idea, overall.”
Council chair Clare Davitt said that the council had received a number of comments from both business owners and the public, expressing opposition to the closure of one particular street.
“We’ve heard from a lot of people, across the board, and the overall feelings about closing Central Street are pretty negative,” Davitt said. “But there is support for the parklet idea, and possibly for closing Broad Street, or possible evening closures of certain streets.”
Despite their displeasure with the way the street closure plan was rolled out, most business owners agreed the city had overall been a good partner in terms of helping them adjust to curbside sales and other new forms of doing business during the pandemic. Parda said the 15-minute curbside pickup designated parking spaces had been of particular help, and he hoped they would stay in place indefinitely.
“For those that have been doing curbside service, I think they received really good support from the city, and I know they appreciate that,” said Dobbs. “I think they’ve been a good partner overall. There’s just a lot of logistics we all have to figure out, as we move forward.”
Most of the councilors agreed that though they hope to move quickly on establishing a plan for how businesses might utilize public outdoor spaces this summer, more ideas and comments would need to be gathered before a decision is made.
“This is a starting point,” said City Manager Cathy Conlow. “There are a lot of different things to look at.”
Watch: Janet Mills announces changes to June 1 reopening phase