HARPSWELL — The town will add parking spaces and signs around the entrance to the Giant Stairs on Bailey Island to try to alleviate congestion and traffic.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Rick Daniel said the Aug. 17 decision to pay an engineering firm $3,600 to construct five or six more parking spaces is the short-term solution to the problem, acknowledging that some residents feel the action doesn’t go far enough to addess safety concerns.
At the same meeting, the board upped the town’s contribution by $7,000 to a joint appeal of new, preliminary flood hazard maps. Harpswell will now contribute $42,000 to a firm hired to collect data to contest the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s updated maps; some of that money could be reimbursed if other towns and cities join the pool at a later date, selectmen said.
Residents on Washington Avenue – the narrow, country road that leads to the popular, coastal rock formation called the Giant Stairs – complained in April about visitors last summer. They said cars sped along the curved road where the speed limit is 15 mph, and blocked driveways; some residents asked the town to prohibit parking in the area.
The problems persisted this year, residents told selectmen in a series of workshops, meetings and site visits.
Selectmen have been weighing the request to ban parking – which Daniel acknowledged would affect Harpswell residents, too – against the desire to keep the park accessible.
“The discovery of Harpswell is taking place and we want to take things a step at a time,” Daniel said Tuesday. “We don’t want to swing too far in any direction.”
He said selectmen focused on safety and accessibility and taking a “measured” approach to a problem for which “there’s no true answer” that pleases everyone.
Several parking spaces are already available to visitors at a chapel near the entrance of Ocean Street, which heads to the water at the elbow of Washington Avenue, where congestion and speed are concerns.
Daniel said Goodall Landscaping is willing to add the parallel spaces along one side of the road, after “the bottleneck” where Washington Avenue curves to become parallel to the ocean. That work is expected to start within the next two weeks, he said.
No parking is allowed on Ocean Street, but Daniel said selectmen will address at their next meeting the chance that an ordinance might allow cars to park there; the idea was brought to the panel’s attention by a longtime Harpswell resident who is concerned the town’s actions won’t allow adequate places to park, Daniel added.
The town will also paint the 15 mph speed limit on the road, and erect at least one additional sign to warn against speeding.
Selectmen also agreed to prohibit parking along the bend in the road, although without adopting a parking ordinance, it will unenforceable.
Washington Avenue on Bailey Island in Harpswell last April. Selectmen voted to create additional parking on the street, which accesses the increasingly popular Giant Stairs coastal rock formation. The decision came after neighborhood complaints about parking, speeding, and disruptive behavior.