Call it 'Parkinggate': Brunswick bank's barrier raises hackles
BRUNSWICK — When the Savings Bank of Maine installed a pay-to-park gate for its Maine Street parking lot in January, it was supposed to act as a deterrent to non-customer parking.
But for some motorists who don't heed the posted warning sign, the gate has become more of a trap. Those unwilling to pay the $10 exit fee have resorted to manually lifting, or breaking, the barrier and driving off.
According to Brunswick police, the breakout scenario has occurred several times over the last several months, leading to five people being served criminal summonses for theft of services or criminal mischief.
For some, the incidents reinforce the sentiment that the gate is a bad idea. Bank officials say the criminal charges prove the gate is justified.
David Webb, an attorney and former town councilor, is the latest to be ensnarled in "Parkinggate."
On Tuesday, Webb was summonsed for theft of services for his alleged involvement on March 27, when the gate sustained $200 in damage.
According to police, the bank's security cameras caught a vehicle registered to Webb leaving the lot at 12:45 a.m. Cmdr. Marc Hagan said the tape showed a man lifting the gate, allowing Webb's car to pass through.
Hagan would not say if Webb was driving the car or holding the gate. However, the theft of services charge suggests Webb was driving.
Webb, reached Wednesday, said he wanted to wait until the summons is resolved before discussing the incident.
Brad De Rosa, a spokesman for the Savings Bank of Maine's Brunswick branch, said the gate was installed to protect parking spots for bank customers and employees, as well as those of the Brunswick House of Pizza, the bank's tenant.
"Sometimes we'd show up to work and the lot will be completely full, but (neither the pizza restaurant nor bank were open)," De Rosa said.
De Rosa declined to say whether the gate is "targeted" at customers of other businesses.
However, the close proximity of several drinking establishments – Lilee's Public House and Joshua's Restaurant & Tavern – and the timing of the incidents, at or around last-call, suggest the bank is guarding against bar patrons who sometimes use the bank lot, rather than park on Maine Street or a nearby municipal lot.
"There's a ton of free parking all around here," De Rosa said.
While those parking spots are free, they are also more visible to police, whose headquarters are directly behind the municipal lot. Some spaces in the lot are used for parking by on-duty police officers.
According to Hagan, bank branch Manager Larissa Darcy told him the gate was installed because of previous reports of vandalism.
"My sense was that the bank was trying to protect their interests, their private property," Hagan said.
Nonetheless, town officials and police are worried about the gate fallout, which has generated criticism from the Brunswick Downtown Association and the owner of the Brunswick House of Pizza.
"(The gate) seems so antithetical to the way business is conducted nowadays," said Rob Jarratt, of the Brunswick Downtown Association. "The BDA is all about welcoming people downtown and opening up to businesses, so this is the antithesis of what we're encouraging businesses to do. … I think people don't quite understand the reason why the bank installed the gate."
There's also a Facebook page called "People Boycotting Pay Parking in Brunswick" that has 146 fans. Comments on the page range from the outrage to the conspiratorial, with some suggesting that the bank is trying to put Brunswick House of Pizza out of business – a flimsy assertion given that the bank just signed the restaurant to a new lease in January.
Still, the gate does appear to have created some unintended consequences. Although customers of the restaurant and bank receive free tokens to exit the lot, some worry the mere presence of the gate is unwelcoming, anti-business and anti-Brunswick.
De Rosa, meanwhile, said the bank is continuing to monitor the response.
"We're trying to address the positives and the negatives," he said. "We've received some responses. I'm not going to say which side outweighs the other, but we're keeping track of both."
Hagan, meanwhile, said police will continue to issue summonses to those who try to leave the lot without paying.
"We had a feeling this was going to happen," he said.
Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or email@example.com