Need for downtown diversity, infrastructure improvements, outdoor recreation noted at Hallowell forum

HALLOWELL — City residents have their priorities in order: They want officials to improve the diversity of downtown businesses, improve infrastructure and enhance outdoor recreation.

Vision Hallowell Vice President John Bastey speaks during a Zoom Community Conversation held Thursday night. Participants discussed long- and short-term goals for the city. Image capture

Those were the topics raised during a Zoom forum Thursday night, organized by a group of Hallowell organizations seeking residents’ input. Among those who ran the forum were the city’s Comprehensive Planning Group, Vision Hallowell, Hallowell’s Community Heart and Soul planning group, Hallowell All-age Friendly Committee and the Hubbard Free Library.

After a short introduction, participants were broken up into groups to discuss questions pertaining to long- and short-term goals for the city ahead of the election which will see new City Councilors and a new Mayor elected.

During one of thegroup sessions, Judy Feinstein, a member of the city’s Planning Board, said she has heard some city residents want more diverse businesses on Water Street, aside from the places to get food and drink. That sentiment was echoed by other residents, who said that craft stores and other retail would be welcome in the city.

There was a real strong feeling that people wanted a downtown that had more than a dozen places to pick from to have a beer and a burger, to put it nicely,” Feinstein said. “The question that comes into my mind is ‘what else does downtown have to offer?’”

Ryan Gordon, a Greenville Street resident, said he would like the city’s downtown to be more family-friendly and safer for pedestrians. He said he rarely travels downtown with his family because he feels it is too automobile-centric and not safe for pedestrians.

Gordon said that problem also expands into the residential areas of the city, where cars are also “zooming through.”

It feels like a really dangerous place with traffic that feels too fast to bring a family there,” he said, advocating for better sidewalks, fewer cars and slower traffic through town. “The physical way people move about is very important.”

Matt Bear-Fowler, a Hallowell resident who said they use a wheelchair to get around, said there are some businesses they cannot access because there are steps. They said that’s an area on which the city could improve in the future.

There’s just so much that does not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards,” Bear-Fowler said. “It’s too bad because it excludes a lot of people.”

Resident Judith Graber said the city should also look into the effects of climate change, because Water Street’s proximity to the Kennebec River makes it prone to flooding. Further, she supported the pocket park concept at the corner of Water and Central streets, and the larger concept of adding more green space to the city’s downtown.

Along the thread of green initiatives, Gordon said he was on the city’s new committee dealing with solar power, which has a goal to get 80% of the city’s household on solar energy.

Other groups discussed an emphasis on buy local and hosting more outdoor events as other short-term ideas to bolster the city’s downtown. Midterm goals included continuing the Kennebec River Rail Trail through the city and getting grants to clean up the facades of  buildings in the city’s downtown. Other longterm goals included affordable housing and better connecting Hallowell’s outer neighborhoods to the city’s downtown.

City Councilor and mayoral candidate George Lapointe said he was “pleased with the focus on making the Hallowell portion of the rail trail more user friendly, the discussion on multi-generational events to draw people to town, and the mention of a structured approach to economic development in Hallowell.”

Lapointe’s opponent in the mayoral race, City Councilor Maureen AuCoin, who said she helped plan the event through work with both Comprehensive Planning Group and the Hallowell Heart and Soul Project, said the forum echoed repeated calls for economic development and infrastructure maintenance in Hallowell. She said that some of the work she has already begun on some of the issues of walkability in the city.

“Recently, as the chair of the Highway Committee I was successful in facilitating a plan for The City of Hallowell and DOT to address the need for a crosswalk near Stevens Commons,” she said. “This is a step towards the walkability and interconnectivity of neighborhoods that folks seem to be asking for.”

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