CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors voted unanimously Wednesday to substantially increase fees for commercial vehicles at Fort Williams Park.
They also decided to seek proposals for pay-and-display parking management, enforcement, and equipment at the park.
A decision on whether to implement pay-and-display parking for cars and other non-commercial vehicles will be made after responses to the request for proposals are received.
The Nov. 14 votes followed a Town Council workshop Monday on both issues. The council also held its annual caucus on Tuesday, where recently re-elected Councilor Jamie Garvin was chosen to serve as chairman in 2019.
Town Manager Matt Sturgis said Wednesday the “major changes” to commercial vehicle fees at Fort Williams will include increasing trolley fees from $1,700 per season to $3,000 per season, and tripling the fee for motor coaches and buses from $50 per trip to $150 per trip.
After a motor coach or bus completes its 75th trip, Sturgis said, its fee will decrease to $140 per trip, up from $40 per trip.
He said the changes will take effect next summer.
The council also adopted all recommendations not related to fees submitted by the Fort Williams Park Committee, which included prohibiting commercial van and bus traffic in Captain Strout Circle, directly in front of Portland Head Light, with the exception of trolleys and local vans transporting senior citizens.
On Nov. 13, Councilor Chris Straw spoke in support of raising the commercial fees.
Straw said “at a minimum” he wants the commercial vehicles to cover their costs, and also noted the lower rates are costing the town money due to the wear and tear the vehicles cause to roads.
“The roads are a consumable good and they are consuming those roads and we have to repair them,” he said. “The cost of repairing those roads is about what they’ve been paying us, so we’ve been making nothing off them from my perspective.”
The town twice previously, in 2006 and 2010 referendums, has defeated proposals to institute pay-and-display parking at the park.
In June, councilors again asked the Fort Williams Park Committee to research how the system could be adopted, and received a report produced by a subcommittee.
Sturgis said paid parking would be available in five lots, encompassing approximately 270 spaces.
Cape Elizabeth residents would be able to park for free with an annual parking pass, which will be available at the Police Department. In earlier discussions, councilors considered charging residents $5 annually.
Nonresidents would pay $2 an hour for a minimum two-hour visit and a maximum fee of $10 a day. Nonresidents will also have the option to pay for a $15 season pass.
Compared to surrounding towns, Sturgis said the proposed parking rates for Fort Williams are “reasonable.” One example he gave was Scarborough, where residents can buy a season parking pass for local beaches for $40, and nonresidents can purchase one for $150.
Sturgis also said the proposed pay-and-display parking would be seasonal, effective May 1-Nov. 1. Parking would be free for everyone from Nov. 1-April 30.
Under the proposal, Sturgis said, Fort Williams will also provide some free parking at the rear of the park, near the Children’s Garden and the playground area, for “overflow parking, tow avoidance and keeping the park affordable for all.”
At the workshop Tuesday, councilors had a lengthy discussion about parking rates, the difference in cost for residents and nonresidents, and the responsibility of parking enforcement workers.
Sturgis Wednesday said an increase in visitors to the park is part of the reason the pay-and-display parking is being considered.
In 2009, he said, Fort Williams had 190,000 visits and an estimated 500,000 visitors; 70 percent were Mainers and 28 percent were from out of state. In 2018, the numbers jumped to 277,000 visits and 900,000 visitors, with 40 percent coming from Maine and 60 percent from out of state.
Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan also called pay-and-display a “critical budget issue” for the town, noting there is approximately $6 million in deferred maintenance that needs to happen at the park.
Garvin, however, said there is a need for “public engagement.” The vote Wednesday, he added, was to advance the item to the point where a full proposal and necessary ordinances could be considered.
“This is an important and needed step in order to get a lot of specific and critical information, to be able to make a fully formed decision,” he said.