2018-02-09 / Front Page

Cape could put ‘pay and display’ kiosks at park

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

To better manage usage at Fort Williams Park and create additional revenue to cover the cost of its operations, town staff members are looking into the possibility of parking fees, something town voters have rejected twice since 2006. (Michael Kelley photo) To better manage usage at Fort Williams Park and create additional revenue to cover the cost of its operations, town staff members are looking into the possibility of parking fees, something town voters have rejected twice since 2006. (Michael Kelley photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – Town officials know they need to get a handle on how to better manage Fort Williams Park as throngs of park users – increasingly from outside Cape Elizabeth – come to the park to enjoy its seaside beauty.

Kathy Raftice was recently hired to serve as director of community services and Fort Williams Park and a job description is being put together in preparation of hiring a park coordinator to take care of commercial visits, group use and other scheduling, but while adding those two positions will help, officials know more is needed.

Town councilors met with members of the Fort Williams Park Committee, Portland Head Light Museum Director Jean Gross, Public Works Director Bob Malley, Town Manager Matt Sturgis, Police Chief Neil Williams and Raftice on Monday to discuss the mission and vision of the park and the potential introduction of paid parking.

Town Council Chairman Jessica Sullivan said use in the park has grown exponentially in recent years.

“It is not built for the way it is being used now,” she said, adding that the discussion about the vision and mission of the park is an overdue one.

Councilors agreed Monday that while commercial users have dominated the park, to the point where Cape Elizabeth residents choose not to use the park during its busiest times, the first priority should be those who live in town.

“I know we can’t bar visitors, but I think we can craft policy in a way that reintroduces Cape citizens to that park because I think we have lost that. I think Cape citizens are fed up with how overrun its become,” said Councilor Sara Lennon.

“We are a park for the community. We know that,” said Councilor Penny Jordan. “What we want to do is make sure Cape citizens can enjoy the park, which they provide tax dollars for.”

Since the park is also a resource for the area, councilors said those who live nearby should be the second priority, followed by commercial users or large group users.

Councilor Valerie Randall said it would be helpful to know how many park users fall in each category.

“If we can get that information, it could help me figure out what we need to be addressing,” she said.

Councilor Chris Straw, who resigned from the Fort Williams Park Committee after being elected to the council in November, said the issue is “much of that data” is lacking. The town could start traffic counts, but that would only note the kind of vehicle and how many, not necessarily where they are coming from (unless the vehicle has an out of state plate). The park committee had looked at having a group do that work or using a fixed-point camera, but there would be a cost associated with both options. Committee member Joe Kozlowski said his group is looking at technology/options out there that could do traffic counts.

“Data is a key element in our long-term plan for the park,” said Jim Walsh, who was recently elected chairman of the Fort Williams Park Committee.

Sturgis said something else the town needs to figure out is what the capacity of the park truly is. He said at town beaches, it is not uncommon for parking lot attendants to not allow any more vehicles in after reaching a certain quota. This could solve the issue of park visitors parking on the grass or circling the park to find a parking spot.

Walsh said the committee is currently looking into how to manage the commercial uses at Fort Williams, especially as it relates to traffic. Part of that discussion has included looking into access to Captain Strout Circle by the lighthouse, where buses drop off and pick up passengers and the number of tour buses and trolleys that come into the park, some of which do so with reservations and some of which don’t.

“We need to formalize that because we don’t feel we have a clear picture of what we need to know,” Walsh said.

A subset of the Fort Williams Park Committee, which includes Walsh, as well as Kozlowski and Jim Kerney, has been meeting every two weeks since being formed in January to discuss commercial vehicle use in the park. Walsh said the park committee is also looking at how Acadia National Park is dealing with overcrowding in its confines.

Jordan said she would like the Fort Williams Park master plan to be readdressed to reflect the rise in commercial activity in the park and how that should be handled. The plan was last updated in 2011.

“If we keep piecemealing it, all we are doing is putting Band-Aids on stuff rather than having that vision,” she said.

Malley said the town has made progress on recommendations laid out in the last master plan, including Cliff Walk and pedestrian safety improvements.

“We are making progress. It’s been a great document,” Malley said of the master plan, which is typically updated every eight to 10 years.

“It is not about reinventing the wheel. It is about recasting it,” Jordan said.

Walsh said the town decided to open the park up to tour bus operators, site rentals and food vendors after voters – twice – rejected a proposal to charge entrance fees at the park. Since then, Walsh said, the town has tried to make the park revenue neutral so it wouldn’t unduly impact taxpayers.

“We are not and never have been,” Sullivan said of the town’s push to revenue neutral

Since fiscal year 2005, Cape Elizabeth property owners have provided $3.34 million to operate the park, close to 70 percent of its operating cost over that time.

Straw said one way to better manage park usage and increase revenue would be to introduce a parking fee for the busiest times of the year, typically summer and fall, through a pay and display system similar to the one used in the Old Port in Portland. People would be charged an hourly rate unless they live in Cape Elizabeth. Residents who live in surrounding communities can purchase a reduced parking pass from town hall.

Williams has looked into various pay and display options, including a system similar to the one Portland uses in which individuals have to pay, print out and display a parking slip on a dashboard and a pay by plate system in which individuals can park by making payment and entering their license plate number in the parking kiosk. A slip is printed out, but it doesn’t need to be displayed in the vehicle. Williams said an individual’s phone could get an alert when the parking time is about to expire. Time can also be extended, for a fee, using the phone.

Councilor Jamie Garvin said a parking system would be a good source of revenue, but have a “negligible” impact on reducing overuse.

Lennon said “people are used” to being charged to park, since they have to do so at beaches and parks in other communities.

Randall said it might make sense to lease parking kiosks rather than purchase them so the town can determine if they are the right approach.

“We will explore all options and come back with some recommendations,” said Sturgis, who will convene with Malley and Williams to look into the prospect of parking kiosks in Fort Williams.

Malley said a lot of the groundwork has been done already. A pay and display working group was formed in 2006 and revisited in 2010. Malley said “we were ready to pull the trigger” but the council changed its mind after voters rejected the idea at a June 2010 referendum.

In February 2010, councilors approved a parking system that would charge a $5 daily parking fee through kiosks from April 1 to Nov 1 (except graduation ceremonies, Family Fun Day and the Engine 1 Art Show or scheduled sporting events). An annual parking pass would be $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents. In September 2006, councilors also approved a recommendation that implement a parking fee except for Cape Elizabeth residents who had a recycling center decal on their car. Voters, however, rejected the idea that November.

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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