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Town Council approves non-resident parking fees for Fort Williams Park

The Town Council on May 13, 2019 approved a pay-and-display parking program for Fort Williams Park.

Highlights of the Program:

  • Fees collected May 1-Nov. 1 only
  • Ten meters would be installed in five premium areas of the park, covering 280 parking spaces
  • Areas for free parking to the rear of the park (Playground, Children's Garden, Officers Row areas)
  • Cape Elizabeth residents would park for free with a resident pass
  • Non-residents would pay:
    • $2 with a minimum of 2 hours ($4 minimum per visit).
    • $10 full day
    • $15 seasonal pass
  • The proposal estimates $317,000 annual net revenue for the town, to be used primarily for operational expenses of Fort Williams Park; long-term capital needs of the town; and, general municipal operating expenses.

The vote was unanimous, with some councilors saying their positions had changed since townwide parking-fee referendums, in 2006 and in 2010, failed at the polls.

"A ... big reason is, frankly, just the need," said Town Council Chair Jamie Garvin, outlining a number of reasons for his personal change of opinion. "Primarily the needs of Fort Williams Park but also more broadly the needs of the town," he said. "The stark reality is that the expenses in both cases continue to rise both for maintenance and ongoing safe operation of the Fort but also for other town services," Garvin said.

Councilor Valerie Deveraux, a Cape Elizabeth resident since 2014, cited the increase in the number of visitors since the last referendum nearly a decade ago. "(At) the last referendum, we had about 500,000 visitors," she said. "Now we are looking at about 900,000-1 million visitors. That's a huge increase of visitors in that amount of time." Many residents who voted against parking fees in past referendums now support fees, she said.

Other councilors referred to the program as a good compromise, balancing the town's need to financially support the park, while keeping fees modest and some areas in the park free.

Under the program, set to begin July 1, visitors parking in one of 280 "premium" parking spaces near the water and Portland Head Light will need to obtain a sticker from one of 10 pay/display kiosks. Parking is $2 per hours with a minimum of two hours. All-day parking is $10, and season passes will be available for $15. Cape Elizabeth residents displaying a window decal will park for free, and there will be 144 free parking spaces in areas near the Children's Garden and Officer's Row. Fees will be collected only during prime visiting season, May 1-Nov. 1.

"I think this particular proposal ... does a very nice job of threading the needle and making sure there's not a barrier at the gate, that you can still access the park for free," said Councilor Jeremy Gabrielson. "I hope moving forward as we evaluate this, and as (future) councils evaluate this initiative, that we can recall the spirit in which we are entering in to this and the sense that maintaining access to this valued resource is really a key part of the decision," Gabrielson said.

The fees are expected to net $317,000 for the town annually, offsetting the park's $300,000 annual operating budget, which does not include capital expenses. The central parking area is currently undergoing a $450,000 renovation to improve traffic flow and safety for the increasing number of tours and commercial vehicles visiting the park and lighthouse.

Garvin added that he would not support the new fees if he were not convinced that the town was already getting the most revenue it could from commercial activity, vendors and group uses.

At the same meeting, councilors approved a statement of use for parking-fee revenue, saying monies will be used primarily to offset the operational expenses and capital improvements of the park; long-term capital needs of the town; and general municipal operating expenses.

In two related matters, councilors on May 13 also directed the town manager to negotiate an agreement to administer the program with Unified Parking Partners for council consideration; and, set a public hearing for June 10 on amendments to the traffic ordinance giving a third party authority to enforce traffic regulations.

All votes were unanimous, but councilors were careful to direct Town Manager Matthew Sturgis to negotiate an agreement with Unified Parking Partners that, in the words of Councilor Penny Jordan, ensures that the values of the town of Cape Elizabeth are demonstrated at Fort Williams.

Unified Parking Partners' bid, the only one submitted in response to a request-for-proposals in January, offers a complete implementation package that includes management, monitoring for violations, pay/display kiosks, all back-office services and processing of payments. The proposal mentions only a $20 fine for non-compliance, said Chair Garvin, "so we're not talking about booting vehicles, we're not talking about towing or anything like that," he said. But, "I agree with the statements that have been said ... about making sure at the outset the (town) manager, police chief, park director, etc. all make our expectations clear so that we're all starting off on the same page."

Fort Williams is a former military installation that was purchased by the town in 1964 and, on July 23, 1979, designated as a park. In those nearly 40 years, said Garvin, the citizens of Cape Elizabeth have borne the responsibility of maintaining the park for residents and non-residents alike.

"Fort Williams is one of my favorite places in the entire world," he said. "We have a solemn duty as the stewards of this incredible jewel to responsibly manage and preserve it for generations to come.

"I think this current proposal is a very modest way for others that use and enjoy the space to help offset our costs and share the burden. And I'm in favor of advancing it today," Garvin said.

For a timeline of meetings, documents and other information about the 2019 Fort Williams Parking Fee proposal, please see our "Hot Topic" page