CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council will likely increase fees for commercial vehicles to help increase revenue and ease traffic at Fort Williams Park.
Councilors also voted 5-1 on Wednesday to charge the Ordinance Committee with drafting legal framework for a proposal to implement pay-and-display parking for cars and other non-commercial vehicles.
Town Manager Matt Sturgis said the park has been “overwhelmed” by commercial traffic in the past few weeks, noting that “economically, there’s room to grow” in terms of the fees charged.
He said it’s “peak season” for cruise ships, and last week incoming cruise ships in Portland brought an estimated 40-50 buses, with about 5o passengers per bus, to the park in just four days.
A memo from the Fort Williams Park Committee recommends prohibiting commercial van and bus traffic in Captain Strout Circle, directly in front of Portland Head Light, with the exception of trolleys and local senior citizen vans.
That would require improving central parking, which is 200 yards away from the lighthouse, to allow for safe, easy access in accord with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The committee suggested paving and re-paving walkways, improving drainage and adding benches and railings along the pathways.
Further, the committee recommends implementing a new “capacity-based” fee structure for all commercial vans, limos, trolleys and buses, that projects revenues of $87,400 from commercial vehicles in the 2019 season, compared to the $57,150 generated in 2017 – an increase of 53 percent.
Under the proposal, vans and limos would be charged $25 a visit and $550 a season. Minibuses would pay a fee of $50 per visit and $2,100 a season. Trolleys would be charged $2,500 a season.
Resident Jerry Kneller, of Ivie Road, said he did not think the fees for commercial vehicles, which he noted typically carry visitors from out of state, would “optimize revenues” for the town and recommended the council reconsider.
Councilor Sara Lennon agreed, saying she is in favor of the other recommendations, but “strongly” feels the fees for commercial vehicles should be increased to “manage the overwhelmed tourist visitors.”
“I honestly don’t think this will hurt the buses,” she said. “No one is going to be adversely impacted.”
Other councilors agreed.
The council voted unanimously to implement four recommendations, which address restricting access to Captain Strout Circle by commercial vehicles while improving pedestrian access, and referred the fee schedule to a Nov. 13 workshop to calculate increases.
Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan noted that James Walsh, who is a member of the Fort Williams Park Committee, has already recommended increasing motor coach fees from $75 to $150 per visit.
Within their proposal, the committee also expressed support for the council’s continued consideration of pay-and-display parking.
The town previously sent the question to referendum votes in 2006 and 2010; both were defeated.
In June, councilors asked the Fort Williams Park Committee to again research how it could be done. The report discussed Wednesday was produced by a subcommittee.
The subcommittee recommended installing 10 cashless meters on a seasonal schedule in the park’s five “premium lots,” which provide 270 spots, with free parking in overflow areas.
A season pass would be offered to Cape Elizabeth residents for $5, along with a $15 pass for frequent out-of-town visitors. Numbered stickers would be purchased at the Public Safety Building and would be issued per vehicle.
Under the recommendation, those without a pass would be charged $2 per hour with a two-hour minimum. Sliding savings would be implemented for longer time periods, including a full-day cap at $10.
According to 2017 traffic counts and 2018 ranger observations, about 277,000 passenger cars enter the park a day during the May-October season and 40 percent of them are from Maine. Based on the assumption that 10 percent of Maine plates are from Cape Elizabeth and 5 percent of “non-Cape Mainers” would buy a season pass, the subcommittee estimates potential annual revenue between $250,000 and $1 million.
The report suggests citations for violations with a fine of $20.
Sullivan said she is in favor of moving forward. She called pay-and-display a “quiet way” to increase revenues in the park.
Councilor Valerie Randall said she thought it seemed “premature” to send it to the committee to do the work if the council hasn’t “committed” to pay-and-display and opposed the motion.
Sturgis stressed that moving it forward to the Ordinance Committee was not an official blessing from the council.
“They are two separate discussions. One is the council’s decision to move forward with pay-and-display, the other is the (technical work) from the Ordinance Committee,” he said, noting that the committee’s work would be time-consuming.