SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Selectmen, in reaction to a petition asking them to reconsider their decision not to renew a lease on a privately owned downtown parking lot, have scheduled a special meeting for today (Thursday) at 2:30 p.m.
The petition, signed by 38 people, is in response to parking lot owner Ken Korona’s closure of the so-called post office lot on Saturday night. Korona blocked the entrance with his truck and posted a sign explaining that parking was only for those using the U.S. Post Office and other businesses in the building he owns with his wife, Chiaolin. Korona insists he wasn’t being mean-spirited, he was sending a message.
“Basically, I was trying to get people’s attention to sit down and talk about this problem,” he said on Wednesday morning. “It wasn’t done out of the blue. The last thing I want to do is hurt businesses in town.”
The problem might stem from the Board of Selectmen’s December decision not to renew the town’s lease on the lot. But Korona said his action was in response to a lack of cooperation from surrounding business owners.
Once the lease expired, Korona resumed responsibility for maintaining the lot. In February, he said, he told the person doing his snowplowing to clear only the spaces needed for his businesses. After a couple of surrounding business owners complained, he said he decided to look for a solution.
“After that, I started carrying on a dialogue with one of the business owners,” Korona said.
After calculating the annual cost of maintaining the 40-space parking lot, he extended an offer.
“I said I would pay 50 percent of that cost if the other business owners would pay the other half,” Korona said.
He said he even went as far as saying the other businesses could use a private area of the lot after 5 p.m. and made other business owners aware of his offer. His one condition was that he hear back by June 1. After his offer went unanswered, he decided to block the entrance on Saturday night.
Korona said he has not stopped anyone from parking in the lot and using other businesses other than that one time. On Monday, he met with other business owners. He said the discussion was fruitful.
“I think it’s heading in a positive direction,” he said.
Town Manager Don Lagrange said the special selectmen’s meeting was called at the request of one of the board members who was concerned about the parking situation.
The town entered into a 20-year lease on the parking lot in 1986 with the previous owner. The lease had an option to extend the term for another 10 years, which, at the time, selectmen voted to do. The 10-year option expired on Dec. 15. Under the terms of the lease, the town paid $1 annually and Korona was given a property tax break of about $560.
It was Korona’s insistence on a short-term lease that led selectmen to decide not to renew the lease. On Wednesday, Lagrange said he still agrees with selectmen that a long-term lease is needed for the town to enter into another contract for the lot.