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'Information gathering' phase begins on Fort Williams pay/display parking

The town has begun the "information-gathering" phase of a pay/display parking system for Fort Williams Park.

The Town Council voted unanimously at their April 9, 2018 meeting to authorize the town manager to draft a request for proposals for seven or eight pay/display parking units for the park. The draft 2019 town budget includes $50,000 for anticipated purchase of the units.

In a separate motion, councilors referred discussion of pay/display parking at the park to their May 1 workshop.

Charging for parking at Fort Williams has been an often-heated subject for many years, most recently in 2010 when voters said "No" to parking fees in a non-binding referendum by a 2-1 margin. Sentiment was similar in a referendum 4 years before that.

"My thought process is a great deal has changed since 2010," said Council Chair Jessica Sullivan, responding to a question on process from a member of the audience. "Prior councils decided to send it out to the voters but there's no requirement to do that, and this decision is certainly within the purview of the council."

But Chris Straw, another councilor and former member of the Fort Williams Park Committee, said he would support a third referendum if a pilot pay/display program were successful at generating some revenue. "The voters have rejected it twice, who are we the Town Council to say 'hey voter's you're wrong, we know better?' So I'd like to instead do it as a trial basis, collect the information, and put it before the voters."

He did however agree with Sullivan that things have changed since 2010. "I opposed fees 10 years ago, I didn't think they were appropriate, I don't think it's appropriate to restrict people's access to the ocean," he said. But, "I now support fees. And the reason being that ... we've now reached the point where there are so many cars coming in at peak season that there is no parking left, and people are just parking on the grass and ignoring where the designated parking is," Straw said.

The council discussed the possibility of charging fees to park at Fort Williams in February with the Fort Williams Park Committee. Since that time, Town Manager Matthew Sturgis, park, and public-safety officials have reviewed possible pay/display systems, including those powered by wireless technologies.

Because the park receives various state and federal grants, parking fees would need to apply in some form to all visitors, not just those from out-of-town, Sturgis said. Councilors may consider charging a nominal fee that might be combined with transfer-station stickers to serve as proof of town residence.