Bar Harbor officials have begun deliberation on a proposal to charge for parking downtown, at least seasonally. The goal is to fund a proposed parking garage on what’s known as the Backyard Lot, behind the Criterion Theatre and the West Street Hotel.
Even with provisions for parking permits for people living on downtown residential streets, a paid parking plan – and the effect on scores of workers and visitors – will require massive changes in behavior. For example: the time-honored game of downtown workers moving cars to different spots every two hours all day will come to an end.
One of the first questions will be the issue of fairness. Will the town designate spaces in public lots for downtown employees? Is it fair for the town to insulate workers from the rules, but impose inconvenience on everyone else?
Of larger concern is how paid parking and a multi-story concrete parking structure, however well disguised or hidden, will affect the character of the community. Such structures usually are associated with an urban landscape, not that of a small seaside town. Bar Harbor has tiptoed up to the edge – and some say toppled over the precipice – by permitting massive development projects downtown. Do residents have the stomach for more? A parking plan vote undoubtedly will serve as a defacto referendum on growth.
Still, the future demand for parking downtown needs to be considered in light of the ongoing effort to craft a transportation plan for Acadia National Park. That plan most likely will lead to additional restrictions on Park parking, increasing pressure on the town’s already limited supply.
Economically, officials have said from the start that building a garage cannot happen without paid parking as a its major revenue source. Unfortunately the entire process suggests an all-or-nothing proposition.
The debate turns out to be not just about meters and a parking garage. It’s about the very future of the town’s character. From the start, residents need to let officials know whether instituting paid parking and building a garage, to help Bar Harbor remain a place folks want to visit, will reduce Bar Harbor’s allure as a place people want to live.