HAVRE DE GRACE - At a Havre de Grace City Council meeting on June 20, Patrick Saipol, director of capital projects, presented the progress of the long-anticipated yet controversial downtown restoration plan.
The restoration project, initiated about 18 months ago, aims to revamp the downtown infrastructure, "which includes our water, our sewer, our storm drains, our sidewalks, our lighting, and our trees," Saipol explained during his presentation. The ambitious endeavor is possible thanks to the funding secured through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Saipol noted the project's complexity, indicating the city has established milestones for management and re-evaluation. According to Saipol, the expected schedule for the completed and remaining phases of the project are:
Saipol shared that the city hopes to start construction in the fall of 2023. He also shared the project's values, which were established during the months-long design charette process.
Despite the project's lofty goals, residents continued to express concerns over parking availability at the meeting. Initial mock-ups by Toole Design, the company overseeing the project, indicate that out of the existing 188 parking spaces downtown, 117 will be preserved. Responding to the concern, the company noted over 270 public parking spaces are within a two-minute walk, and more than 1,000 spaces are within a five to seven-minute walk of the downtown area.
Local business owner Jolene Forrester voiced her worries about the possible parking loss during construction and nighttime safety for those who have to walk farther to their cars.
Another resident, Kerry Parsons, expressed concern about the potential difficulties for the visually impaired and other disabled citizens navigating the new downtown area.
"[impared residents] don't want to walk at night when it's to where they live," Parsons told the council. "I really think that North Washington going down through the plaza and then on to Saint John would be really nice if we could keep that cohesive."
Council President Jim Ringsaker suggested solutions to address these issues, including enforcing a three-hour parking limit and possibly employing parking enforcement officers. He also emphasized the need for civil discourse, citing several unsavory emails his office has received over the past several weeks.
"I didn't respond because I have seen the vitriol in some of the emails and some of the responses in the Facebook pages and the way that some people have acted, and I refuse to engage," Ringsaker said. "You can reach out to us cordially and nicely, and we will respond."
The project, described by Saipol as "the largest overall public event in this city's history," has involved the local community extensively. Over 40 hours of charrettes, or collaborative sessions, have been held where residents could share ideas and provide feedback.
"The purpose of this project is to create open, walkable, accessible, and shared-use spaces to include wider sidewalks, a healthy and consistent tree canopy, curbless streets, linear parks, and a small plaza," Saipol said, summarizing the project's overarching goal.
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Despite the challenges and concerns, the director of capital projects reassured the public that the project represents the consensus of the community meetings and will continue as planned.
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