By Rich MacDonald
I wanted to share my thoughts on the proposed parking garage, as well as parking in general in downtown Bar Harbor. There is no dispute that we have a parking problem. As a business owner without designated parking, I am often challenged to find convenient parking. And this year, the problem was the worst I have seen. While we need to work toward solutions to the growing parking issues, a parking garage at its proposed location is not the answer.
As we work toward solutions, it is imperative that we keep in mind the character of Bar Harbor. A parking garage is not an aesthetic structure. We already have created a waterfront that increasingly looks like “anywhere USA.” Potentially, a parking garage would be a further blight on the landscape as viewed from the bay. Granted, the entire structure would not be visible, but based on 3-dimensional view as presented recently in the Mount Desert Islander, it appears portions of top floor could be.
I am especially concerned about the nature of the town partnering with Ocean Properties on this proposed project given their history of flaunting rules when it comes to the various facets of building. Should we move ahead with building a parking garage (again, which I oppose), then the town should acquire the entire property and be the sole owner. They could then lease to Ocean Properties an agreed upon number of spaces. Or Ocean Properties could purchase the town’s share of the property, with an easement explicitly stipulating the accepted uses of the property, and they operate it as a fee garage.
In terms of means of paying for parking, I am opposed to meters. I am not opposed to paying for parking, but meters are unsightly. Walk the sidewalks on a busy summer day, and there are already traffic bottlenecks everywhere. Although parking meters have a small footprint, they would further impede the flow of foot traffic.
Instead, charging users of a parking garage the entire fee would still see the costs as a cheaper alternative to what many visitors already are accustomed to in cities such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia.
As an aside, we need to reconsider the duration of allowable parking times. There are a number of spots designated as two-hour parking (such as on Firefly Lane). Two hours is an inadequate time to shop and grab a meal. Or to go on a whale watch. Or take the Island Explorer around Acadia National Park. Three hours should be the minimum. But I would prefer to see all parking be designated for four or five hours.
It seems the better solution would be to look at other opportunities for parking in town and out. (I believe there was a study with alternatives to the parking garage, but a quick search online did not yield any results.) Are there other suitable lots not in downtown Bar Harbor and not in any viewshed that could be considered?
I recall years ago that Coastal Kayaking Tours parked their vans and kayak trailers on a lot somewhere west of town and thinking it would be an excellent site for parking. There is the Gateway Center in Trenton. There must be other options as well.
Of course, these would require busing; but there would be a bonus there of reducing traffic congestion in town.
Acadia is beginning a five-year transportation study. It would certainly make sense for the town to pause any immediate plans and work cooperatively with the park to see where there is ground for mutual benefit.
In summary, a Backyard Lot parking garage is not a good idea. I sincerely hope that we can look to other options that are more in line with the character of our beautiful coastal community.
Lecturer and ornithologist Rich MacDonald is proprietor of the Natural History Center in Bar Harbor.