The Auburn Public Library. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

AUBURN — City officials have signed a lease agreement with the developer of a 53-unit housing complex on Hampshire Street for parking spaces for the Auburn Public Library.

The decision, and one-time expense of $65,000, is the result of a lengthy search to replace overflow parking for the library that was lost when the city sold the adjacent Troy Street lot to Portland-based developer The Szanton Co.

At the City Council meeting Monday, officials said the 13 parking spaces along Troy Street are on a strip formerly owned by Pan Am Railways, which was also purchased by Szanton.

City Manager Peter Crichton said the city also considered buying part of the Pan Am land but ultimately didn’t. Instead, the city agreed to a 99-year lease for the spaces, which officials argued is at a cheaper price than if the city developed the parking.

“The cost of $65,000 is less than it would cost the city to do the same and will help meet parking needs of the city and the library,” according to a council memo.

Szanton will be responsible for maintaining the parking spaces, which are included in the larger site plan design for its housing complex. As part of the development process, the council previously agreed to discontinue a section of Troy Street to allow access to the housing project.

On Monday, former Councilor Adam Lee questioned why the city is paying to lease parking after selling the former lot.

Michael Chammings, the city’s director of economic and community development, said the development permitting process required Szanton to develop a certain number of parking spaces, but the company did not end up needing all of the parking area after buying the railroad property.

Last year, the city was considering a range of options to replace the library parking, including building a larger lot on the rear lawn — a proposal that was ultimately rejected by the library board.

Also among the proposals discussed at the time were two options that would have required buying the Pan Am property. Staff at the time expected the land purchase to result in six new spaces, and if the city electrician’s office were relocated, 17 new spaces.

“The parking will certainly help the library situation,” Crichton said Wednesday, adding that officials are still considering options to add more parking in the area. The 13 spaces don’t make up for the parking lost.

He said a traffic- and pedestrian-focused study of Court Street that is underway may play a role in future decisions.

According to the council memo, the contract to lease the parking from Szanton was signed in November 2018 and,”we are now ready to execute the contract and would like the council to confirm the lease.”

Crichton said the city attorney and attorneys for Szanton were looking at the lease. According to the memo, work at the site got underway in the spring and is expected to be completed by April 2020.

The $65,000 in funding was approved as part of the the last two capital improvement plans, for downtown parking and walkability.

Mamie Anthoine Ney, director of the Auburn Public Library, told the council Monday that she’d like to see the 13 spaces be designated for library staff, which she argued would open up other space for patrons.

According to the lease agreement, signs for the parking spaces would stipulate exclusive use by the Auburn Public Library, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to  5 p.m.

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