BAR HARBOR — A plan to begin charging fees for parking on some downtown streets and in town parking lots next summer would be an adjustment for everyone, representatives of a town task force said at a forum on the subject Tuesday. But they hope residents will be willing to give it a try.
Many residents have expressed concern about the plan since it was first presented last fall, saying charging for parking is a fundamental shift for the town’s relationship with its residents and visitors. Those who attended Tuesday’s forum had lots of questions about the details of how the parking plan would work, but no one said they were categorically opposed to the proposal.
At open town meeting June 6, voters will consider a bond issue for $400,000 to fund the purchase of parking meters and kiosks. The appointed Parking Solutions Task Force estimates the bond will be repaid from parking revenue in two years.
“What I’m seeing is, Bar Harbor is in the enviable position of having an economic engine that is revved right now,” Town Councilor Gary Friedmann said. “The story in the rest of rural and Eastern Maine is very different. Because Bar Harbor is growing, we’re having growing pains, and parking is one of them.”
He said the town’s options for raising revenue for needed infrastructure are limited. They include user fees, such as those proposed for parking. Another option is property taxes. “If we like being a community that has opportunities, those are our options. It’s a cultural shift, but we can do it together. It’s not like there’s a secret group that’s trying to foist this on the residents.”
The parking program includes parking meters every two spaces on Main, Cottage and part of West and Mount Desert streets and Firefly Lane. These would be removed in the off-season. The town also would charge fees for parking in town lots, but residents would receive stickers allowing them to park in “resident and employee only” areas and in “sanctuary spots.” Employee parking stickers may be purchased for the season.
The task force report, including a frequently-asked-questions section, is available online. Task force Chair Eben Salvatore stressed that the details of the plan are malleable. If the bond question passes, the council and task force will have nearly a year to continue to work out the details and familiarize the public with the plan.
“We are aware this plan does not create any more parking spots,” said Martha Searchfield, task force vice chair and Chamber of Commerce director. “Right now, there is no more to get.”
She said the town could use revenue from the parking program to purchase satellite lots in the future. The task force has begun to talk with the middle and high schools here about possible use of those parking lots, she said, but the details have not been worked out.
Task force members discussed how the recommended “smart meters” work, saying they would provide useful data about parking patterns. They said they’re recommending hang-tags be available for purchase for weekly rentals, bed and breakfasts who are grandfathered to use street parking and home occupations such as massage therapists or accountants. These would allow customers to park in otherwise “resident and employee only” areas.
Renters count as residents under the plan if they have a vehicle registered in Bar Harbor. Some College of the Atlantic students do not have their cars registered here, attendees argued.
“We didn’t want to write a rule that would conflict with state law,” Searchfield said, “and state law requires anyone living here for more than 30 days to register their car in Maine.”
The town’s Warrant Committee recommended rejection of the bond question by a vote of 16-4, but the only members of that committee who attended Tuesday’s forum were Erin Early Ward and Liz Kase, who also are on the task force.