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Cape Elizabeth readies rules for Fort Williams Park art vendors

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Cape Elizabeth readies rules for Fort Williams Park art vendors

CAPE ELIZABETH — They may not be going completely back to the drawing board, but town councilors are less than a week away from posting proposed regulations on the sale of art and other "expressive matter" at Fort Williams Park.

After a park tour and 40-minute executive session to confer with town attorney Tom Leahy on crafting regulations to accommodate art sales and maintain park appearance and safety, councilors concluded a special meeting Tuesday without a vote.

Chairman James Walsh said proposed regulations would be posted on the town website by Wednesday, Aug. 7, in advance of an Aug. 12 meeting where the rules will face a vote. Because they are not an ordinance, Walsh said a public hearing is not required, although public comment will be accepted at the Aug. 12 meeting.

Before the executive session, Alewife Cove Road resident Marilyn Kristiansen argued that restrictions on where she and her husband, Kris Kristiansen, may sell his artwork violates their First Amendment rights.

Limiting sales locations can be done to protect town interests, Kristiansen said, but because no other artists sell independently in the park, there is no threat.

"We have been here three months, no one else has come out," she said.

The couple began selling oil paintings near Portland Head Light in early May.

The couple moved to town about six years ago from Scotland, although Marilyn Kristiansen is a Cape Elizabeth native. Her husband returned to oil painting about two years ago, she said; his sales augment their pensions and help pay $6,800 in property taxes.

Councilors requested the park walk after tabling a vote July 8 on regulations to set up a site for as many as eight "street vendors." All except Councilor Jamie Wagner toured potential vending sites, joined by some members of the Fort Williams Advisory Commission and the Fort Williams Foundation.

The primary area under consideration is in the median between the central parking lot and the road leading from the Portland Head Light.

The Kristiansens object in particular to the site between the lot and access road because of dusty conditions, a sloping terrain they believe would be unsafe for customers with limited mobility, and the distance from the area to where tour buses and trolleys stop.

Town Manager Michael McGovern said the Fort Williams Advisory Committee also suggested a spot on the other side of the parking lot, near the bus parking area and below the Battery Blair Memorial.

McGovern said the second site is less desirable because it could be used for development of a visitor center, although no plans exist to build one.

A third option, not recommended by the commission, is near the current spot favored by Kristiansen. The site requires work to improve drainage, McGovern said.

In attempting to compose regulations, councilors said they have referenced four federal court decisions on uses of public land in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.

Although Kristiansen said the reception she and her husband have received from licensed park vendors has been good, one vendor this week expressed dissatisfaction about the situation.

"I see them as a business. We want it to be fair, that's all," Carl Dittrich said. He said he paid $4,000 for the permit to operate his Atlantic Cookie Co. cart near Portland Head Light, and said the Kristiansens should contribute earnings to help pay for park maintenance.

Kristiansen said the couple has offered to contribute an unspecified amount at the end of the season.

In a shady spot just outside the light keeper's house, meanwhile, artist Bill Thompson welcomed visitors and added custom lettering to the boat and lighthouse paintings he sells for $10.

Thompson has been working three days a week at the park for 15 years, donating a minimum of 50 percent of his earnings to park maintenance and upkeep funds.

Thompson is one of two artists who generate about $40,000 in annual gross sales (and $20,000 for park upkeep) at tables set up across from the gift shop, and he said he supports regulation of all merchandise sales in the park.

"Any retail sales should have to go through the gift shop and director," Thompson said. "Otherwise, you are going to have a zoo in here, almost a carnival or flea market."

Thompson also sells his art at Nubble Light in York, and said the standard exists in parks to prohibit unregulated vending.

"If someone tried this in Acadia (National Park)," he said, "they wouldn't last five minutes."

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.