2017-07-14 / Front Page

Lower Village planning underway

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The process of developing a master plan to guide development in Kennebunk’s Lower Village shopping district is well underway.

Following a June 12 workshop at Sea Road Elementary School attended by more than 60 people, the Lower Village Master Planning committee hosted a similarly-sized crowd on June 28. During the first session, participants broke into small groups to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the area as it now stands. During the second meeting, groups got down to brass tacks, brainstorming specific ideas for improvement.

According to Steven Cecil of Harriman Associates, the firm hired at $75,000 to craft the master plan, his group will take all of the ideas raised, conduct additional research and return in the fall with the framework for vetting at additional public meetings.

“Now it’s time for them to go to the drawing boards,” said Betsy, Smith, who chairs the Lower Village committee, the umbrella group under which the master planning committee operates. “I think there is a sense in the town that this is sort of a business versus residents exercise, but what I keep trying to impress upon selectmen and others is that we who live there, we love the businesses.”

And in fact, during the workshop, which included stakeholders from all interest groups, it was not a question of butting elbows between those who live and work in Lower Village. Instead, the main question seemed to be how best to attract tourists from Dock Square, located in Kennebunkport across the Mathew Lanigan Bridge, and lure them all the way up Western Avenue to Cooper’s Corner and beyond.

“How do we keep them on our side?” asked Theresa Willette, owner of Coast- al Maine Kayak, throwing out the first question of the event — one which dominated the two-hour exercise.

One of the bigger issues each of the groups dealt with was traffic along Western Avenue, Port Road and Beach Avenue, which all meet at Cooper’s Corner — so named for the garage that occupied one corner for many decades.

According to Stephen Sawyer, vice president of transportation services at Sebago Technics, an engineering firm partnered with Harriman, about 5,000 cars per day travel Port Road and Western Avenue “on an average day throughout the year,” with 4,200 coming and going form the corner on Beach Avenue.

However, on the section of Western Avenue between the corner and the Lanigan Bridge, average daily traffic runs to 10,000 cars per day.

That compares to the same volume of traffic along Main Street in the downtown area.

“So, it’s basically the same volume up on Route 1 through Kennebunk Village as exists on this short stretch between the corner and the bridge going into Kennebunkport,” Sawyer said.

But that traffic spikes during the summer season by 25 to 30 percent.

“So, we are talking 13,000 cars per day that might be trying to use that stretch,” Sawyer said.

Perhaps surprisingly, crash data for 2014-2016 collected by the Maine Department of Transportation showed just 34 accidents, including two involving bicyclists, across the entire Lower Village district.

“If you dig into the accidents, which I did, most of the accidents were from parking maneuvers — someone trying to get in or out of a parking space and getting sideswiped,” Sawyer said. “They were more property damage incidents than personal injury incidents.”

In the workgroups, participants placed areas for parking, trees, and benches, on aerial photos of Lower Village, trying to come up with ways to improve congestion.

“In our group, an interesting question was asked, what if we had parking on just one side of the streets, then we could widen the sidewalks on both sides and have more room for cars to move,” Cecil said. “We also had a lot of conversations about bump-outs.”

“We decided absolutely no bump-outs,” said Harriman planner Katie Moore, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

Other ideas thrown out included calls for public art spaces, extending the tree canopy on Port Road down Western Avenue to the Lanigan Bridge, the relative value of planters and increasing safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“There was a lot of talk along the lines of, we really like what’s there, let’s just add this, or add that,” said Harriman landscape architect Howard Snyder.

“I think building on all of the really good things there and just making it a little better is what’s exciting,” said Laura Dolce, executive director of the chamber of commerce, who sits on the master planning committee. “We all talked about the need for more sidewalks and better lighting and this is the process that is going to get us there.”

“The choices are real,” Cecil said. “We can say, as many of us did, that, well, we’d like bicycle lanes, we’d like turning lanes, we’d like wider sidewalks and more parking, and all of that is fine, but then we can’t have any buildings.”

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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