Revised parking rules fail to resolve Higgins Beach debate in Scarborough

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SCARBOROUGH — After one summer season, the success of the town’s new Higgins Beach parking rules depends on who you ask.

Police officers, public works staff and town councilors say the plan has had some success controlling beach-going traffic. They also said town-owned parking lot is showing a profit.

But some Higgins Beach residents say visitors using new one-hour parking on Bayview Avenue have displayed unsavory behavior, including public nudity, urination and drinking.

The parking ordinance was approved in January. It prohibits parking on side streets, established one-hour parking and drop-off spots along Bayview Avenue, and created the attended, pay-to-park lot on Ocean Avenue across from the Higgins Beach Inn.

Of the 84 days the lot was open, it was full 41 days. The $5 parking fee brought in nearly $23,000 in those weeks, at a cost of about $8,750 for staffing.

“The facility worked pretty well this year, especially for our first year,” Public Works Director Bruce Gullifer said at a Town Council workshop on Wednesday.

Reserve Officer Ted Gagnon, who patrolled Higgins Beach this summer, said the new parking system reduced the number of people parking on Acorn Lane, which in previous summers had been a haven for drivers with nowhere else to go.

The two summer attendants, Bill Reichl and Ryan Colpitts, said an additional 22 parking spots would bring the lot up to a total that might better handle the demand. Town Manager Tom Hall said in a memo that the expansion would likely cost about $45,000 and could easily be completed by next summer.

The two attendants also suggested that an automated ticket system be installed, which would charge visitors by the hour. They said it would catch parkers who sneak in early to avoid payment.

Reichl and Colpitts also said the fee should be raised from $5 per vehicle to $10. But that idea was met with resistance from councilors.

“We decided on a $5 fee to entice people to use the parking lot,” Councilor Carol Rancourt said. “Hourly parking could get pretty pricey.”

Reichl and Colpitts also asked that the town construct a restroom, a plan others said would help avoid the disrobing by beach-goers along Bayview Avenue. In a memo handed out Wednesday night, the attendants’ recommendations were echoed by the Community Services and Recreation Advisory Board.

Police Chief Robert Moulton told the council that while police calls and citations were up this year at the beach, they were in line with what he would have expected considering the new rules and what he called “increased vigilance” by residents.

Police recorded 463 parking violations from Jan. 1 to Oct. 1, 2011, an increase of 189 over the same period in 2010, he said.

“We were looking at a situaion where there were more opportunities for violation because of the new one-hour parking,” Moulton said. “But we also had more vigilance from residents calling in for violations.”

Moulton said 71 of the violations were reported by residents. Of those calls, 42 were from just five residents.

For analysis, Moulton compared offenses at Higgins Beach, Prout’s Neck and Pine Point. He said each one had more of certain types violations than others: Prout’s Neck had more traffic violations because of increased policing in the neighborhood, Pine Point had more shellfish violations because more fisherman operate there, and Higgins Beach had more parking violations.

“It makes sense that you see more parking violations at Higgins Beach than at the others,” Moulton said. “The numbers are relatively consistent between each area when you consider the unique characteristics.”

Gagnon said that if anything needs to be changed along Bayview Avenue, it is the addition of more parking spots for handicapped permit users and more signs identifying loading zones. There are two spaces reserved for handicapped permits.

Roger Chabot, speaking on behalf of the Higgins Beach Association, which represents 80 percent of homeowners in the area, said the new rules have helped keep roadways open and allow for easier access in and out of the neighborhood.

But beyond that, he said, the changes have brought nothing but traffic issues, inappropriate behavior and water-quality problems.

Chabot told councilors that he’d seen drivers back up 200 feet on Bayview Avenue to try and get a spot that opened after they’d passed. He said this is a danger to pedestrians in the area.

The association distributed folders including photos of beach-goers stripping, bathing, urinating or drinking near their cars. Chabot has said that if visitors weren’t allowed to park on Bayview, and if the town had built a bathhouse or changing room in the parking lot, much of this could have been prevented.

“This activity needs to be put to an end somehow,” he said.”… The parking situation is not working. I hope that you seriously take a look at this. It’s an issue that needs to be resolved.”

Councilor Michael Wood, taking what is likely his last opportunity to speak on Higgins Beach before he resigns next month, said he thought the town had some success in its first year with the new parking ordinance, but that more work should be done.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” Wood said, “but I think it lies in us paying attention to what we as councilors are here to do first and foremost: access to the beach is very important and we can’t have it shut off.”

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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