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Council to revisit commercial-vehicle fee recommendations; eyes ordinance updates for potential pay/display parking at Fort Williams Park

As the Town Council continues to look toward the financial stability of Fort Williams Park, councilors on Oct. 10, 2018 adopted recommendations for safety improvements relating to tour buses, trolleys and other commercial vehicles entering the park; and, sent recommended fee increases for those vehicles to a workshop for further discussion.

Some councilors said they thought the fees, recommended by the Fort Williams Park Committee, should be higher.

"I love the work the committee did, I agree with everything but these fees," said Councilor Sara Lennon.

The recommendations, drafted at the council's request by a subcommittee of the Fort Williams Park Committee, include a new "Commercial Capacity Based" fee structure for commercial vans and limousines, mini-buses, trolleys and motorcoaches. The proposal projects revenues of $87,400 from commercial vehicles in the 2019 season, compared to the $57,150 generated in 2017, an increase of 53 percent.

Some councilors, however believe the fees won't cover the costs of accommodating the vehicles or the number of visitors they bring. Lennon added that she believes townspeople expect commercial users to cover the growing cost of wear and tear on the park, and, she said, "I think secondly and probably more importantly, I really think people are looking for us to manage the overwhelming (number of) tourist visitors that come there. It's overwhelming.

"No one from Cape wants to use the park anymore, from May to November, and I think that's sad," Lennon said.

Councilor Jamie Garvin moved to adopt the safety recommendations, but to defer recalculating the fee proposal to a workshop Nov. 13. "I don't think we should be doing that here on the fly tonight," Garvin said. Councilor Chris Straw called for calculations to include the cost of resurfacing Shore Road from South Portland to the park entrance, which he said is being "destroyed" by bus traffic.

The safety recommendations adopted by the council include prohibiting tourist vans and buses from Captain Strout Circle directly in front of the lighthouse; and making improvements to the central parking area and approach to the lighthouse, including drainage improvements, stable (paved) surfaces and railways and benches where needed.

Ordinance preparation for pay/display parking

In a related matter, the council on Oct. 10 also charged its ordinance subcommittee with drafting updates to the traffic ordinance in anticipation of a future pay/display parking system at the park.

While the council has not voted to implement a system, Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said any such system will need a legal framework, which will take time to develop. "By sending this to the ordinance committee, it's not saying that you're going forward with (pay/display)," said Sturgis. But, if the town does decide to go for pay and display, "this would provide the language under which you would be able to accomplish that," he said.

"There's two parallel tracks that need to be traveled," Sturgis said. "If you could have them both traveling at the same time and arriving at the same station it would be a good thing."

Voting against the referral was Councilor Valerie Randall, who said she believed the move was premature. She said that before working on the ordinance, the council should first commit to a pay/display parking program at Fort Williams Park. Councilor Chris Straw said he agreed with Randall, but also that reviewing the ordinance may help the council come to a final decision on charging for parking at Fort Williams Park.

In a September workshop the council reviewed a draft plan for pay/display parking developed by another subcommittee of the Fort Williams Park Committee. The plan recommends installing 10 seasonal, cashless pay/display meters for 270 spaces in five "premium" parking lots, with a $2-per-hour, 2-hour minimum daily metered parking fee. Sliding savings will exist for longer stays. Seasonal passes would be available for $15 ($5 for Cape Elizabeth residents), and 144 spaces would be provided for free and overflow parking.

The ordinance committee would look only at the traffic ordinance, not fees or other details about the pay/display proposal.