SCARBOROUGH — Though questions were raised about whether residents were getting a fair shake, councilors on Friday approved a handful of parking and lease deals between the town and the Higgins Beach Inn.
The first deal outlined a plan for the inn to lease a small cottage at 41 Ocean Ave. from the town for $600 per month.
In the agreement, if the inn nets more than $7,200 in rental income from the cottage in a year, the town and the inn will split the remaining income 50/50. The deal is in effect until April 30, 2013.
The cottage is on property the town bought in March 2010. The Higgins Beach Inn had been leasing it, and the town honored that lease until it expired in April of this year.
Councilor Jessica Holbrook was worried the deal didn’t give the town its due.
“When I first read this, I kind of choked on my coffee,” she said. “I’m no real-estate agent, but $600 a month? I think that’s a steal.”
She said the property likely fetches much more than that in peak summer months.
Councilor Michael Wood said it was a good deal to get a little less than peak price all year because there may be some months with no renter at all, during which the town would still get its money.
Town Manager Thomas Hall said the benefit of this arrangement is that the town will own an asset it doesn’t have to manage.
Despite Holbrook initially saying she’d vote against it, the proposal ultimately passed unanimously.
The other deals involve parking spaces near the Inn on Ocean and Greenwood avenues.
The first agreement leases a handful of parking spaces adjacent to the cottage at 41 Ocean Ave. to the inn. The agreement specifies one spot be reserved for the town and another the cottage’s tenant. The rest will be used by inn employees only.
In return, the inn’s staff will maintain the gate at the public parking lot behind the cottage, agreeing to open it around daybreak and close it at sunset. The agreements will last two years.
The second deal leases nine spaces on Greenwood Avenue to the Higgins Beach Inn for guests’ use from May 15 to Sept. 15 of each year. In return, the inn will pay the town $5,000 per year. The agreement will automatically renew each year.
Councilor Karen D’Andrea said she would be willing to support one of the above agreements, but not both. She argued the town was leasing away too many public parking spots.
“All of these parking spaces belong to the public,” she said. “I think that’s something we need to protect down there. … We’ve taken away too many public spots and I think that’s wrong.”
Councilor Carol Rancourt agreed, saying the second deal should be more closely modeled on the public-private use agreement at Pine Point.
“If we’re going to make it exclusively for the inn, it seems $5,000 per year isn’t nearly enough — not for exclusive rights in the high point of summer.”
Wood again responded in favor of the agreements. He said trading spots for the inn staffing the gate at the public lot would save the town money in payroll. He also said businesses at Pine Point pay $5,000 to use the parking lots all year, so asking the same amount from the Higgins Beach Inn for four months seemed fair.
The deal for the parking spaces next to the cottage at 41 Ocean Ave. passed unanimously. The deal for the nine spots on Greenwood Avenue passed 4-3, with councilors Holbrook, D’Andrea and Rancourt casting the dissenting votes.
In other business, the council unanimously approved a three-year contract for the town’s firefighters.
The contract includes concessions from the union for smaller wage increases to cover the cost of increased pension contributions from the town. The union also conceded to a lesser medical insurance plan. Hall said the deal cost $10,000 less than had been budgeted for this fiscal year.
The council also accepted as presented a Red Brook Watershed plan that includes steps to improve the the health of Red Brook to meet Maine water quality standards, protects and improves the watershed habitat for aquatic and land wildlife, and builds community support for protection and enhancement.
The town authorized a deal to place a parcel of wetland owned by Grondin Aggregates LLC into a conservation easement, permanently foregoing any development on the land. The town also accepted the land into town ownership.
Grondin created the wetland to mitigate wetland compromised in development at Portland Jetport.
Councilors also voted to extend the town manager’s contract for another three years.