SOUTHWEST HARBOR — A property owner voicing concerns about increased overnight commercial use of a town-owned lot next to a working dock led to contentious debate at the July 17 meeting of the town’s select board.
Members of the public, many of them working fishermen, spoke in opposition to suggestions from property owner Marion “Missy” Marron who was looking for guidelines from the board on the use of the parking lot known as the Hook Property now that it is owned by the town.
Last October, voters approved a town purchase of the property at a special town meeting. Before the purchase, the town had been leasing it as an extension of the Manset Town Dock parking area for 25 years.
At that special town meeting, Selectman Lydia Goetze said the property is also important for the nearby outer island communities. Island residents rely on fuel and other materials being barged in from the Manset Town Dock, she said, and the Cranberry Cove passenger ferry.
Marron, who owns two properties located across the street from the Manset Town Dock and the Hook property dirt lot, offered a goal in her letter “to develop this dock and lot as a place that serves both commercial, local residents and the sea community—both commercial fishermen and residents.”
She also recommended restricting commercial vehicle use to daytime and defining traffic patterns that make one side commercial and the other residential (recreational) for environmental and safety reasons. She also asked for a noise ordinance from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., enforcement of the state’s idling law and buffer hedge between the lot and neighboring properties.
Marron wrote that she was concerned about waste dumped on the dock and in the water, traffic and commercial vehicles parking overnight.
“I want to do this in a really supportive and collaborative way,” Marron told the Islander this week.
Her letter was prompted by a conversation among town officials about establishing a long-term parking permit program.
During the July 17 meeting, selectmen approved an amended traffic and parking ordinance after tabling it for several meetings to make changes.
One of those changes was the addition of a required parking permit, available, for a $5 fee, to park in the Hook Property overnight. Another was designating two spaces next to the public restroom as 15-minute parking except for vehicles using the electric car charging station. A long-term parking permit was not included in the ordinance changes.
There has long been a $5 fee to park in the lot, but there was no system for tracking who had paid. Since the establishment of the required permit, Harbormaster Adam Thurston said, he has noticed a decrease in overnight use of the lot.
“Actually less people are [parking overnight] because it was kind of free rein before,” said Thurston in an interview, noting the change holds people using the lot more accountable. “I’m positive this is the busiest ramp on the island.”
During the summer months, he said, it’s also busy with recreational users.
Each year he receives more requests for moorings for dinghies and a greater number of recreational boaters load in and out because the ramp is useable in high or low tide, Thurston explained.
During peak season for fishermen, fewer than 10 leave from the Manset Town Dock each morning. Most leave from the Lower Town Dock across the harbor, according to Thurston. Although some fishing boats leave to work as early as 2 a.m. most head out between 4 and 6 a.m.
Manset Town Dock is the only town dock where lobster dealers come to buy lobsters, he said. Those trucks are refrigerated and need to be left running in order to work, which means they sit idling for hours at a time.
Harbor Committee member Corey Pettegrow argued, though, that commercial use of the lot had declined.
“It’s really at the lowest level of activity that it’s ever been,” he said at the meeting. He described Marron’s comments during the selectmen meeting as self-serving and told her not to waste her time on a noise ordinance for the area.
Kristin Hutchins, in her first meeting on the select board after being voted in in May, told Marron she was not unsympathetic to her concerns. The town needed to explore uses of its lots before making more changes, Hutchins said.
“I hope we can work through this where everybody gets to talk about it,” Goetze said, adding that the dirt lot has been used by the town for 100 years.
“This town has a tradition of mix use zoning, which is very different than many other areas of the state and the country,” she said.
After being told by the select board items of concern in her letter were more for the harbor committee to address, Marron asked how she could continue the conversation civilly.
Harbor committee member Ann Napier told Marron at the meeting she also rents properties and she warns her renters about activity at the dock. Napier presented Marron with a packet about the harbor committee during the meeting. She said the two of them likely have similar goals regarding use of the lot.
“If we can keep pushing this in the right direction, we can work together to find the best use for everybody,” Selectman Ryan Donahue said at the meeting. “This being said, this is what a lot of people like about our town is it’s a real town.”