News icon




Council tables decision on Fort Williams Park parking fees, related revenue policy to May 13

The Town Council on May 6, 2019 tabled a decision on whether to begin charging out-of-town visitors to park at Fort Williams Park. The council will vote on the proposal May 13.

At a public hearing May 6 the council heard from only two citizens on a topic that has generated heated debate and two citizen referendums in the last 20 years.

"It is a little surprising to not see more people here tonight," said Jamie Garvin, chair of the Town Council. "Again the vote is scheduled for next Monday so we may hear from more people before then, and we may hear more by the way of email leading up to it, but I just wanted to share that with the public that we really haven't heard that much from anybody."

One speaker at the hearing, Elmwood Road resident Scott Dorrance, urged the council to hold another referendum. "My feeling is if the town has asked the citizens to vote on this twice in the past that the citizens should get a chance to vote on this again," said Dorrance. "This whole parking thing should be held off until the town citizens have said yes or no."

The other speaker, Shore Road resident Jim Kerney, said he was strongly opposed to parking fees when they were defeated at referendum in 2006 and 2010. But, "I have completely changed my stance on that as a result of visitor influx at Fort Williams," he said.

This difference, said Kerney, is that Fort Williams Park has grown from a community park to a tourist destination, and that citizens have been footing the bill. "Nobody wants to have to pay for something that was always free, but I think now is the time that we need to re-examine that, and ask our guests at Fort Williams to start bearing some of the costs of managing the park, enhancing the safety of the park, and preserving the natural beauty of the park," said Kerney, who also headed a subcommittee of the Fort Williams Park Committee charged with determining the feasibility of a pay/display program.

In an overview presented at the hearing, Town Manager Matthew Sturgis confirmed the increase in use and associated costs. "The volume has increased dramatically over the past decade," Sturgis said. "The last time this was reviewed ... we were having roughly 500,000 annually or 190,000 trips. It's almost doubled since the last time, we're close to 900,000 visitors, estimated somewhere between 750,000-900,000," he said. Sixty-percent of those visitors are from outside Maine.

Both Sturgis and Kerney cited the park's $300,000 operating budget, and this spring's $450,000 project for safety and circulation improvements to the central parking area. The pay-and-display parking program is expected to generate $300,000 net revenue for the park this coming fiscal year. "With this funding in place we'll be able to find a way to provide for the long-term needs of the park, and the sustainability of the park," Sturgis said. "This is also another way that financial support for the park can be provided by all users."

The council on May 13 will also vote on a draft policy for the use of parking-fee revenue, primarily to offset operational expenses of Fort Williams Park; long-term capital needs of the town; and, general municipal operating expenses.

Some highlights from Sturgis' presentation:

Fees collected from May 1-Nov. 1. "Basically to capture the season, the high season for parking when the largest volumes of tourists come to the park."

No charge for Cape Elizabeth residents. "An important detail to clarify is that Cape Elizabeth residents will park for free, simply by displaying a window decal."

Reasonable Fees for Non-Residents: $2 per hour for a minimum of two hours; $10 full day; $15 season pass. "The average visit is roughly an hour and a half, so this captures ... the majority of visitors," Sturgis said. Also, state and federal grants that the park has received require any fee structure to be reasonable. "It's felt that that more than meets the reasonableness measure, especially in comparison to other communities surrounding us that have different beach passes and park passes for roughly $125-$200 plus - so we felt that was a good middle ground."

Ten meters for 280 parking spaces in 5 premium lots. "Lots that are closer to the water, closer to where people want to see the attractions that are at Fort Williams such as the lighthouse and Ship Cove, as well as down towards the central parking lot."

Free parking available towards the rear of the park (Playground, Children's Garden, Officers Row areas). "The thought behind that was that ... it would try to mitigate any type of toll avoidance by having to park in the neighborhood," Sturgis said. It also makes areas like the playground and Children's Garden more accessible to users who may only stay for a short time.

Supports Vision Statement for Fort Williams Park: To provide a safe, high quality space for Cape Elizabeth citizens and visitors to enjoy. We will protect and maintain access to the park's historic elements and natural beauty for this and all future generations, and optimize the town's stewardship by managing the park through financially and ecologically sustainable practices.

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