SCARBOROUGH — The debate over whether to allow a 500-car parking lot and beach access near Scarborough Beach, on 64 acres owned by Sprague Corp., is heating up as a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting approaches.
A decision, which will be made on March 31 at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, has been delayed twice, first at the request of Sprague Corp. and the second time by the town.
In February, Sprague Corp. submitted an updated site plan. The new plan is similar to previous plans, including a two-phase construction process for the gravel-and-grass parking lot, with 270 parking spots in the first phase and 227 in the second.
A playground and picnic shelters have been added to the plan, as well as a trail system through the property.
The plan also includes 4- to 10-foot berms and 6- to 10-foot native trees on the sides along the perimeter.
The ZBA can ask for more details from Sprague Corp. before issuing its ruling. If it rules in favor of the applicant, the project will then go to the Planning Board for site plan approval.
“The applicant will do a presentation, and I expect the chairman (of the ZBA) will allow for a public hearing on the new information,” Planning Director Dan Bacon said.
The dispute over whether to grant the special exception for recreational use in the rural farming district became contentious because of its potential impact on neighbors.
More than 100 people turned out at a ZBA meeting on Jan. 31; many spoke against the parking lot, and some pointed out it would be larger than the current Hannaford supermarket parking lot at Oak Hill.
Concerns about the visibility of the lot, as well as sound and odor issues, dominated the discussion. Other speakers were worried about the added traffic and its impact on Black Point Road, as well as on pedestrians and bicyclists who use the road in the summer.
Several neighbors of the property have hired attorneys to represent their interests.
Natalie Burns, who is representing several neighbors, did not return requests for comment. But at the previous ZBA meeting she and other attorneys cited technical issues that could prevent the ZBA from granting the special exception for recreational use of the property.
“A 500-car parking lot in the RF district is not within the definition of an outdoor recreational facility,” she said during the public hearing. “Parking itself is not a recreational use.”
Sprague Corp. currently manages the Scarborough Beach State Park facility, leases 100 acres of its property west of Crescent Beach to the state and owns extensive private properties in Cape Elizabeth.
“It’s a change for the area. Up until now it’s just been farmed,” Seth Sprague, president of Sprague Corp., said.
Sprague said he understands that the neighbors are concerned about potential impact, but that the company would rather see the land in public use than turned into private homes or a condominium complex.
“We’d like to keep it open space,” Sprague said. “But we need to make a little income off it.”
He added that if the town rules against granting the special exception, the company would try to keep the land as open space as long as it can afford to. After that, he said, it is possible the company would consider developing the area.
A group of surfers who supported additional parking at Higgins Beach has emerged as a backer of the parking lot at Scarborough Beach, too.
Chris Powers, a sports marketing professional who has done work for the Surfriders Foundation, said beach parking is necessary.
“I think it’s a resource that should be available to the public,” Powers said. “Over the years, it seems there is a lot of space on the beaches, but nowhere to park. You can’t go (to the beach) after 11 a.m. because it’s filled up.”
Powers said he would prefer that the Sprague lot be a little smaller than the 500 spaces proposed, but that he understands that’s the only way for the proposal to make any money.
“It’s a big impact. I get that,” he said. “The neighbors don’t want to live next to a parking lot. I completely sympathize with that. I would probably feel the same way if I lived there.”
However, Powers said it is important that the ZBA consider the entire community, not just the neighbors, when making its decision.
“It’s a hard decision to make, but the best remedy is the one that’s best for the most people,” Powers said.