Scarborough council weighs Higgins Beach parking compromise

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SCARBOROUGH — People upset over proposed off-season parking restrictions at Higgins Beach may soon be sated if a new compromise suggested by Councilor Judith Roy is accepted by the Town Council.

While the proposal creates one-hour time-limited parking and a five-minute drop-off area along a portion of Bayview Drive, it also creates unlimited year-round parking further down the beach-front street.

Unlimited parking is now allowed only during the off-season and no parking is allowed during the summer.

“I’m trying to come to the middle of the road,” Roy said. “You don’t know if it will work until you try it.”

The compromise comes after an ad hoc committee composed almost entirely of Higgins Beach residents proposed restricting parking along the beach to 30 minutes during the off season, a suggestion that was unpopular with surfers and other beach users.

“I’m going to be happy to support (Roy’s proposal),” Councilor Jessica Holbrook said. “I think this is a healthy compromise.”

Other councilors were not as enthusiastic.

“I think an increase in (parking) time is reasonable,” Councilor Michael Wood said, “but I don’t like the fact that this allows for parking along Bayview during the summer.” 

The first reading of the one-hour parking and unlimited summer parking portions passed 5-2, with Wood and Councilor Richard Sullivan opposed. The five-minute drop-off zone passed unanimously.

The proposals will come back for a public hearing in January and then a second reading before the ordinance changes can be approved.

More than 60 people attended the meeting on Tuesday. 

Some asked that off-season parking at Higgins be the same as other beaches in Scarborough turned in a petition with nearly 900 signatures. Beach residents expressed concerns about safety and inappropriate behavior on the beach.

Diane Garofalo, owner of the Higgins Beach Inn, asked the council to make the 14 parking spaces near the inn available exclusively to her guests, a recommendation made by the ad hoc committee and backed up by a petition signed by many Higgins Beach residents. Garofalo suggested the parking spots were already the inn’s property.

“In the 15 years we’ve owned the inn, we’ve regularly seal-coated, swept, plowed and maintained these spaces,” Garofalo said. “The only time the town has attended to spaces since we owned the inn was when a storm drain was repaired.”

Councilors spoke in support of her position, but cautioned that simply giving the spaces away would be unfair after a recent deal with the Fishermen’s Co-op on Pine Point for parking spaces in a town-owned lot cost the co-op $5,000 a year.

“We were very cautious and careful in negotiating that public resource,” Wood said. “And some could argue that parking is worth more at Higgins Beach.”

Councilors unanimously approved a statement asking Town Manager Tom Hall to establish an agreement between the town and Garofalo for the council to review.

The council also heard from Hall and a group of design professionals about developing new facilities at the parking lot the town purchased earlier this year two blocks from Higgins Beach. 

Hall proposed constructing a shower and bathroom building at the new parking lot, as well as improving the space to accommodate 62 spaces.

The initial costs of the project were estimated to be $120,000, which was already available as part of this year’s budget. The total project cost of $290,000, which would include a possible automated gate, would need to be appropriated in an upcoming budget season.

“You can establish fee structure and use it as you wish,” Hall told the council.

He suggested the fee stay below $10 to avoid discouraging people from using the beach.

The lot and proposed bathroom facilities would be open year-round.

The parking lot plan will be sent to the Planning Board for review.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net

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