City eyes hotel for downtown park

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Westbrook has received a proposal to build a hotel in Saccarappa Park, which is located on Main Street between Bridge and Dana streets and the Presumpscot River.

WESTBROOK — The city is considering some changes for its downtown, including the potential development of a hotel in Saccarappa Park.

The city has received two unsolicited proposals, one for hotel and one for a retail space, for the Main Street green space in the past three weeks. The City Council may put out an RFP (request for proposals) for the property so it can review other development ideas as well.

The City Council’s Committee of the Whole met Monday night to discuss the park as well as other city issues. Prior to the meeting, the Facilities and Streets Committee, also comprised of the council, discussed downtown parking. It voted 4-2, with councilors John O’Hara and Victor Chau opposed, to recommend that the City Council eliminate some downtown parking spaces.

Developing Saccarappa Park, which is located between Bridge and Dana streets along the Presumpscot River, has been a long-standing topic of discussion in Westbrook. The city has considered selling it to developers in the past, but has always opted to keep it as open space.

City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the park, which is just over an acre, is “not heavily used” and O’Hara said it’s “one of the most overlooked properties in greater Portland.”

Chau said it may be time to consider selling it.

“As much as parkland is great, this is prime real estate,” he said.

Councilors were receptive to the idea of developing the property for a hotel because it would bring more people to Westbrook’s downtown. Chau said when events are held in Westbrook, attendees can’t stay in the city and are forced to find lodging in surrounding cities and towns.

There are a handful of motels near the Westbrook/Portland city line, including the Super 8 Motel on Larrabee Road. Councilors said they’d like to see a “boutique hotel” built in Saccarappa Park. O’Hara said this would hopefully spur development in the rest of the downtown and result in more two- and three-story buildings on Main Street.

Mayor Mike Sanphy reminded councilors that the park is one of the only green spaces in the downtown. He said employees from Maine Medical Center, which will be moving into One Riverfront Plaza in the coming months, may want to visit the park during lunch breaks. He also said a new building would increase traffic downtown, and Councilor Lynda Adams agreed that this, as well as pedestrian traffic, is a concern.

Bryant suggested councilors discuss the issue again as a Committee of the Whole next month so it can receive input from the city’s new director of business and community relations. Daniel Stevenson, who was hired last month, starts Oct. 30.

If the council does decide to put out an RFP for the park, it doesn’t commit the city to choosing a proposal, Bryant said.

Despite wanting more development downtown, the Facilities and Streets Committee decided to recommend limiting downtown parking. The changes would remove some parking spaces, but would mostly serve to better highlight where parking isn’t allowed.

The proposal for parking signage changes came from the Planning and Police departments. Jennie Franceschi, the city’s director of planning and code enforcement, presented the proposal to councilors Monday night. The council will consider the issue at its Nov. 6 meeting.

If approved, parking would be restricted on both sides of Vallee Square, which was enforced when the road was Bridge Street. A no parking zone also would be implemented on  the west side of School Street, resulting in the loss of four spaces, and the east side of Dana Street. According to Franceschi, there would be no real loss of parking on Dana Street because it’s too narrow for cars to park on both sides.

Some parking would also be restricted in the Warren Block parking lot between Main Street and the river to clearly mark existing no parking areas. Signs would be placed to mark fire lanes and along curbing. Police Capt. Sean Lally said people have parked in no parking areas, but police can’t ticket them because there aren’t proper signs.

Also, parking would be restricted next to the Dana Warp Mill, between the mill and the start of the bridge. The informal spaces are in a blind spot for oncoming traffic making it dangerous for cars to back out of their parking spots.

“That’s a bad accident waiting to happen,” Police Officer Phil Hebert said.

All of the parking restrictions are being proposed for safety reasons. In some cases, parked vehicles make it difficult for emergency vehicles to fit through streets. Councilors said even though they want people parking downtown, they’d rather avoid dangerous traffic hazards.

“I know parking is a concern, but it can’t come at the cost of fire trucks, police vehicles, or someone walking out from between vehicles and getting struck,” Councilor Gary Rairdon said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Westbrook has received a proposal to build a hotel in Saccarappa Park, which is located on Main Street between Bridge and Dana streets and the Presumpscot River.

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