2015-09-11 / Community

Council OKs beach parking amendment

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

Surfing is a popular activity at Higgins Beach in Scarborough. Last week, the Scarborough Town Council debated changes to the time allowed in a row of parking spaces along Bayview Avenue, a common place for surfers and other beach users to park. (File photo) Surfing is a popular activity at Higgins Beach in Scarborough. Last week, the Scarborough Town Council debated changes to the time allowed in a row of parking spaces along Bayview Avenue, a common place for surfers and other beach users to park. (File photo) SCARBOROUGH – After hearing pleas from community members to leave parking along Bayview Avenue at Higgins Beach as is, the Town Council gave preliminary approval to a provision that would limit parking in the 13 spots from the dropoff zone to Morning Street to half an hour between 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from May 1 to Sept. 15. Currently there is a 1-hour parking limit during that period.

Town Council took the action at its Wednesday, Sept. 2 meeting.

The amendment came on the heels of the council’s review of an amendment to the traffic ordinance that would push the start time to 7 a.m., due to complaints about noise in the early morning hours. Aside from the parking problem, some residents of Higgins Beach have also complained about indecent exposure, public urination and other problematic behaviors by surfers at the beach, concerns Town Councilor and Higgins Beach resident William Donovan called “very real to neighbors.”

An amendment that would have banned “undressing and the changing of clothes” “within the limits of any park oR beach, except the bathhouse or other suitable structures,” was tabled indefinitely by the council.

Scarborough Police Chief Robert Moulton told Town Councilors last week the department has had no noise complaints between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. in 2015.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 24, police responded to five noise complaints — none along Bayview Avenue — and 70 calls about parking and issued 255 tickets — stemming from citizen complaints and routine patrols. Moulton said Higgins Beach is patrolled six hours a day during the week and an additional six hours on Friday and Saturday nights.

Moulton said police only dealt with one indecent exposure case in the past year. It had to do with a man off his medicine urinating on the grass and not surfers changing in and out of wetsuits, something some in the neighborhood say is rampant.

Moulton said officers take the complaints from Higgins Beach seriously but often can’t make it down to Higgins Beach as often as residents might like, especially in the morning when they are working to get caught up on what happened the night before.

“There are a lot of things happening that time in the morning and we have 54 square miles to cover,” Moulton said about the 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour.

In terms of keeping track of how long cars have been parking in the one-hour spots, Moulton said, “it’s tough to see that as a priority when there is so much more going on.”

He said exposing genitals, buttocks or female breasts is against the law, but showing skin, especially near a beach is not.

“I don’t know how to train our staff about how much (skin exposure) is too much,” he said.

Town Council Chairman Jessica Holbrook, who made the motion to change parking to half an hour and return it back to 6 a.m., said her intention had nothing to do about the indecent exposure or noise complaints.

Holbrook said the idea was to keep the parking consistent with other areas of Scarborough that prohibit street parking from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Furthermore, parking in front of the beach by the Pine Point Co-op, which sits on the confluence of the Scarborough River and Atlantic Ocean, is limited to 30 minutes.

“This is about continuity,” she said. “You need continuity to have public awareness and enforcement.”

Holbrook, the only member who was on the Town Council when parking was allowed on Bayview Avenue, said the original intent of allowing parking on that section of Bayview Avenue was to allow people an opportunity for short walks on the beach or other short beach activities.

She never envisioned the spots would be used by surfers, some of whom are at the beach for several hours.

Donovan, who was not on the council at the time, but followed the parking debate closely, agreed with Holbrook about the original intention of the parking.

“It was intended to be short-term parking,” he said. “That turned out to be a complete failure.”

Donovan said he supported Holbrook’s motion because “it would improve access for the purpose from which we always intended.” He said oftentimes the Bayview Avenue spaces are used by “people who engage in water sports” who tie up the spaces for several hours.

“They are good people,” Donovan said. “They are doing their thing. They are occupying a space that was not intended for a two- to three- hour use so it is a denial of access. That’s what we have here.”

He said people in the Higgins Beach community are frustrated these parking spaces are not being used for the original intended purpose, which was for someone who wanted to take a quick walk/trip to the beach.

Shawn Babine, Jean-Marie Caterina and Ed Blaise also supported Holbrook’s motion, although Blaise, a Higgins Beach resident, said he would prefer not to see any parking along that section of Bayview, something he said he knows the full council would not support.

“I think this is a good start,” Blaise said. “I don’t know if it will work or not. It is a start and I am going to support it.”

Caterina “fully supports the 30 minute limit” because “there are people who hog the parking spaces, especially on the weekends.”

Not everyone on the council could get behind Holbrook’s recommendation. Councilors Kate St. Clair and Peter Hayes voted in opposition.

“It is unbelievable to me that we are going to take away parking and access for people,” St. Clair said.

Hayes recommended the Town Council take a step back and find a better solution.

“For us to pass another ordinance that’s not going to be enforced doesn’t move the dime,” Hayes said.

Melissa Gates, the northeast regional manager of Surfider Foundation, a group that advocates keeping the parking as is, sent Donovan a letter asking him to recuse himself from participating in future discussions on the topic “due to conflict of interest.”

Gates said her organization is not asking Blaise to recuse himself because he does not own oceanfront property like Donovan does.

“Councilor Donovan has clear financial interests in the resolution of this matter that are distinct from other councilors, as to our knowledge, he is the only Higgins beachfront property owner on the Council,” Gates wrote in a letter to councilors on behalf of Surfider. “In addition, his longstanding history of fighting against surfers and the general public’s rights of access to Higgins Beach were further substantiated on record during the Sept. 2 hearing, clearly demonstrating his bias and, we feel, his inability to operate with the best interests of the entire community in mind.

“The Surfrider Foundation stands firm in our request and hold that the right and ethical thing for Councilor Donovan to do is recuse himself. We feel that this is the only possible way the Higgins Beach community can hope to arrive at community-minded solutions to the matters at hand.”

Donovan told the Sentry he is “undecided” about the recusal request.

Prior to the council’s deliberation, many members of the public, including several from outside Scarborough, urged the council to not make amendments to the parking or undressing ordinances. Many had already taken that stance by signing a petition circulated by Surfrider. The petition, which Gates said had more than 1,840 signatures, called for councilors to reject the ordinances.

Some speakers, including Lucky Lane resident Katy Foley, said altering the parking would limit the amount of time they have to enjoy the beach, especially for those people who like to enjoy the beach before going to work.

Foley said walking on Higgins Beach has helped her stay strong after 14 corrective surgeries for club feet. Because of this, walking take a little longer than normal and can’t be accomplished within an hour, let alone a half hour.

“The saltwater is amazing when I walk in the ocean. There is nothing like it,” she said. Foley said education and enforcement is all that is needed to make sure the ordinances on the books are being followed.

“There is tension down there and it makes me sad,” she said. “It makes me sad to see neighbor pit against neighbor.”

Foley said she hopes the council “stands up for the town and the surrounding areas, and preserve and protect the limited access we already have and enjoy.”

A public hearing on the topic will be held Wednesday, Sept 16 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. Councilors are expected to make a final decision at their Wednesday, Oct. 7 meeting.

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