BAR HARBOR — Councilors approved $400,000 for parking meters and kiosks Tuesday when the Parking Solutions Task Force presented their recommendations for a new parking program. The funds would require a bond issue as part of the 2018 Capital Improvement Program budget.
The paid parking in town lots and on some streets would begin in the summer of 2018, if approved by voters. The bond issue would be voted on at the June 2017 town meeting.
Councilors unanimously accepted the task force recommendation to institute paid parking in municipal lots and along Main Street, West Street, Cottage Street, Mount Desert Street and Firefly Lane during the peak tourist season, from May to October. Residents and employees could obtain permits to park on other streets. Those permits, however, would not guarantee a place to park.
“This is the best thing I’ve heard in 15 years,” Councilor Gary Friedmann said, calling the plan “incremental” and “not a shock to the system.”
Residents Stewart Brecher and Dennis Bracale said they were concerned that the parking problem is a symptom of a larger issue of overcrowding and seasonal businesses pushing out year-round businesses and housing.
Praising some European tourist cities that have sharply limited automobile access, Bracale said Bar Harbor needs “a vision as large as the visions that created this national park.”
“I think we do want to foster sustainable growth for the town,” Friedmann responded. “I’d like to think we can do the things Stewart and Dennis are talking about at the same time. But I don’t see how we could talk about cutting off tourism by not dealing with the very real parking problem that we have.”
Councilor Matt Hochman, the council representative on the task force, said that while the plan does not create new parking spots, it does have a potential to shift the way people park while also raising revenue and generating data.
The meters and kiosks come with software that allows information about revenue and parking turnover to be downloaded and analyzed, Town Manager Cornell Knight said. He also said the meters and kiosks will make it possible for parking attendants to work faster and cover more ground than in the current free parking system, with its two- and three-hour limits.
The task force presented their work at a public meeting last week ahead of the council taking up the issue. They made a few adjustments to their report from feedback received at that meeting, including on-street parking for some “grandfathered” bed and breakfasts and parking requirements in residential neighborhoods for visitors, guests, contractors and service providers.
“We’ll be recommending adjustments as we go,” said task force facilitator Ron Beard. Councilors said they appreciated that the plan is “not set in stone.”
The proposal includes creation of a parking fund, similar to the town’s existing cruise ship fund, allowing revenue from parking fees and fines to fund future purchases or improvements to parking, streets or sidewalks.
Hochman said the task force discussed whether some portion of parking revenue could be used to reduce or offset taxes, though that idea is not mentioned in the task force report.
“It would be more palatable to people if they thought it would reduce taxes,” Councilor Burt Barker said. “A lot of people don’t benefit from tourism.”