Paid parking plan is aired

BAR HARBOR — A plan to institute paid parking in municipal parking lots and along Main Street, West Street, Cottage Street, Mount Desert Street and Firefly Lane during the peak tourist season from May to October found mixed reactions from residents, employees and business owners at a public meeting Monday.

More than 30 people attended the meeting where the town’s Parking Solutions Task Force presented their draft recommendations and sought feedback ahead of a planned presentation to the Town Council Dec. 6.

The task force was appointed this summer and charged with making recommendations to the council to implement the “Bar Harbor Backyard Parking Study” final recommendations, according to the group’s bylaws.

“The rationale for paid parking, along with a corresponding permit system for employees and residents, is an attempt to allocate among many users a scarce public resource,” the group’s draft report says.

Residents and employees would be granted permits allowing free parking in residential areas, freeing up most of the prime on-street and lot parking for visitors and customers. The group did not decide on a time limit for meters.

Steve Cornell, a bed and breakfast owner who also works for the town, lives on one of the streets proposed for employee parking. “I don’t see you telling all the employees in town to come park on my street as a quality of life thing,” he said.

Task force member Matt Hochman said the task force would continue to seek feedback, even after a plan is implemented. “We want to hear: on your street, is this reducing traffic, or increasing it?”

He said encouraging visitors to leave their cars at their hotels, motels or campgrounds would be important. Increased fines and increased enforcement also are part of the plan, he said. The town’s consultants recommended fines in the $50 range, about three times the cost of parking all day at a meter or in a lot.

Police Chief Jim Willis told the task force the program would make enforcement of parking rules easier for the police department, Hochman said.

Paul Murphy, general manager of the company that operates the Island Explorer bus system, said $50 is more than some major cities charge for parking violations.

He said the proposal could increase bus ridership on the Eden Street route by 35 percent. “In the short term, we don’t have the capacity to be part of the solution,” he said.

“I came here to oppose the meters,” resident Laureen Donnelly said, “but you all have done a thorough job. I’d be willing to try it.”

She and others mentioned a 2010 zoning change that did away with a requirement that nonlodging businesses provide parking.

“I think it was a mistake to vote not to require parking. We’ve got buildings with parking lots we’re gonna lose,” she said.

The plan does not create any new parking places, task force members said, but could both manage existing parking better and raise funds for future parking development.

Task force member Jill Goldthwait said “the town’s conversation about its carrying capacity,” or concerns about overcrowding, is outside the scope of the parking plan. But she said she hoped that “broader conversation” can continue.

The proposal includes creation of a parking fund, similar to the town’s existing cruise ship fund. It would be separate from the town’s general fund, but would be subject to approval under the budget process, including Warrant Committee review.

Members of the task force are Mary Booher, Dick Cough, Erin Early-Ward, Jill Goldthwait, Liz Kase, Sherry Rasmussen, Eben Salvatore and Martha Searchfield. Hochman is the council representative and John Kelly is a nonvoting representative from Acadia National Park.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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