April 04, 2020

Camden parking fee plan dies

CAMDEN – A proposal from a town committee to charge for parking at the public landing died a quick death Monday night.

Three members of the select board said they were leaning in favor of the proposal when they first heard it explained by the town’s Parking, Traffic and Transportation Committee, but all five board members voted against pursuing it after hearing from residents.

About 10 people spoke against the pay-for-parking plan, some speaking more than once, during the public hearing on the issue.

The committee had investigated the plan over the last several months. Chairwoman Ann Bex noted that a state Department of Transportation study and two town committees over the last 10 years concluded that the town should charge for parking at some lots.

The committee favored using the public landing because it is a popular spot for tourists, and there is one entrance and exit to it, off Bayview Street. Currently, there is a two-hour limit on free parking there. Tickets for overtime parking are issued by police.

Under their plan, the parking committee would have exempted several spaces at the landing for fishermen and the crews of some of the passenger schooners. About 65 remaining spaces would have been available for $1 per hour up to four hours at a time. The fees would have been charged from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 15 to Oct. 15.

Bex said based on 40 percent occupancy, the system would have generated $39,000 a year, which could have been applied to a fund to eventually pay for a new parking lot elsewhere in town.

Two residents spoke in favor of the proposal. Mary Ann Smith said it would be “a good move by the town,” and bookstore owner Barrie Prybl said she has seen the system used in Aspen, Colo., where it “works like a charm.”

But they were followed to the podium by Frank Parker, who spoke emphatically against the plan.

“I can’t believe that we’re so hard up for money in the town of Camden,” he said, that the town had to resort to charging for parking. He said many elderly local people enjoy parking at the landing to look at the harbor, or walk around there.

“I don’t believe you should have to pay to park a car,” Parker said.

Susan Dorr, a member of the Select Board, asked Parker if he would oppose it if residents could park at the landing for free. He replied that he would feel better about it, but still thought it was not a sound move.

Board members were considering giving residents passes to let them park for free.

Jack Moore, a schooner owner, said tourists might be inclined to pay for four hours and leave their cars at the landing under the proposal, rather than leave after two hours, thereby creating gridlock.

He and others also expressed their fear that charging for parking would give the town a bad name.

Charging seemed “more like crassly commercial towns like Bar Harbor and Boothbay Harbor,” Moore said, which seem to be trying to “bilk tourists out of their money.”

Aaron Lincoln, who works for the schooner Olad, said charging for parking was more akin to big city policies, and ran counter to Camden’s draw.

“We’re selling something that’s relaxing and fun,” he said of the schooner experience.

Board member Dave Miramant told those representing the schooners that the committee was taking the vessel owners into consideration with their proposal, and that it would allow visitors on two-hour cruises more leeway with parking.

But he, Dorr and board member Paul Cartwright said they were persuaded to drop the plan after hearing from residents. The board voted 5-0 to not pursue the pay-for-parking arrangement.

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