SCARBOROUGH — Town councilors Wednesday took what could be the first steps toward restricting public access at Higgins Beach.
The Town Council was presented with two ordinance modifications at the Sept. 2 meeting: one that would prohibit the use of 13 one-hour parking spaces along Bayview Avenue before 7 a.m., and another, aimed at surfers, that would prohibit “dressing, undressing and the changing of clothes” within the limits of the beach or any public park.
Councilors amended the first proposal in a 5-2 vote, continuing to allow parking at 6 a.m., but limiting it to 30 minutes during the summer season. Councilors Kate St. Clair and Peter Hayes cast dissenting votes on the measure, which requires a second vote.
A public hearing and second reading of the parking amendment is slated for Sept. 16.
They also indefinitely tabled the proposal regarding dressing and undressing.
Polarization between members of the public who frequent Higgins Beach, particularly surfers, and property owners in the neighborhood, was conspicuous on Wednesday. While more than one councilor commented on it, others fed into it.
“My greatest concern is if lack of cooperation on all sides continues,” Councilor Jean-Marie Caterina said. “I fear that public access could be jeopardized.”
Visitors to the beach have access to the Bayview parking spots, as well as a municipal lot two blocks inland, off Ocean Avenue, which includes public restrooms and showers.
But for those who want a quick dip or surf in the early morning hours, and are under time constraints, walking to and from the public lot chips away at beach time; parking on Bayview, which directly abuts the beach, is preferable.
Some Higgins Beach property owners, however, don’t like surfers occupying those spaces.
Councilor Bill Donovan targeted surfers as the primary problem and supported the amendment to limit Bayview Avenue parking to half an hour.
“They are occupying a space that was not intended for two- to three-hour use. Everyone knows it’s true,” Donovan said.
The amendment “will improve this to the purpose which it was always intended. It was intended for short-term users,” Donovan said.
Those participating in “ocean sports,” perpetually occupy “the majority of those spaces,” he said, to the exclusion of the elderly, dog walkers and other beachgoers. “Get it? (Surfers are) not supposed to park there.”
It’s necessary to consider how the Higgins Beach residents are feeling, Donovan said, and “they feel abused.”
Donovan, who owns property on Morning Street at Higgins Beach, said the revised parking limit is a compromise that “accentuates the original point of those spaces, (it’s) fair to both sides, it’s something this community will embrace.”
Councilor Ed Blaise also agreed with restricted parking. “Personally, I would like to see no parking down there,” he said, calling the amended ordinance “a good start.”
Blaise and Donovan also said inappropriate behavior and noise are issues that should be addressed.
Resident Doug Lund-Yates said his experience is the opposite, and that he walks his dog every morning at 6 a.m. at Higgins. “When I go down there, it’s very quiet,” he said.
Surfers are indeed there that early, Lund-Yates said, and he understands why parking at the municipal lot on Ocean Avenue is an inconvenience.
“If you make those people walk from the parking lot, you’re going to cause them to waste 10-15 minutes. If you’re a working person, you’re in a rush,” he said.
Conor Beliveau, of Portland, an avid surfer at Higgins Beach, said the hour-long parking on Bayview makes all the difference.
“Big-picture wise, this is really important; as a working person, (the Bayview parking) means a huge deal to me,” Beliveau said. “This ordinance really stinks to me as being very un-Maine in its scope and content.”
Police Chief Robbie said no noise complaints have been filed so far in 2015 during the 6-7 a.m. period. The Police Department has received 70 calls about parking in the Higgins Beach area, he said, and officers have issued 255 parking tickets.
Moulton said officers clock six hours of patrol during the day and six hours at night at beaches in Scarborough, in addition to random beach “roves.”
When asked by Councilor Peter Hayes about the realistic limits of more police enforceability when it comes to traffic infractions, Moulton said it would be difficult, especially in the morning. “I think someone getting down there at 6 a.m., I’m just not seeing it,” Moulton said.
Other residents, like Katy Foley, told the council that it’s hard enough for her to walk from a parking spot on Bayview to the beach in an hour, because she was born with club feet.
Limiting parking “does discriminate against the working class, in my opinion, but it’s pretty limiting access as it is,” she said.
“There’s a tension down there and it makes me really sad, sad to see neighbors pitted against neighbors,” she said.
If the issue is one of restricting access, consider the people like Foley, Hayes said. By limiting parking to half an hour, “I think you’re actually restricting access (for them),” he said.
St. Clair, who heads the Ordinance Committee and whose members are responsible for bringing these two amendments to the council, said the continued attempt on the part of some Higgins Beach owners to limit parking even further “is a continuation of people in the Higgins Beach community trying to privatize parking and take away spaces. This is unbelievable to me.”
A scene earlier this summer along Bayview Avenue at Higgins Beach in Scarborough. An attempt to ban dressing and undressing near the beach was tabled Wednesday by the Town Council, although councilors took the first step toward limiting early morning parking on the street.