2015-07-03 / Front Page

Parsons parking poses prickly problem

Property owners voice disapproval of pay-to-park plan
By Duke Harrington Staff Writer


A view of the half-mile long stretch of Parsons Beach owned in common by members of the Parsons Beach Association — all descendants of the original owners — is seen from a home at the far end from the pubic access point. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking on Parsons Beach Road, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. Left, a sign posted at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk notes that the beach is privately owned, and while the public is invited to enjoy the site, that access may be terminated at any time. (Duke Harrington photos) A view of the half-mile long stretch of Parsons Beach owned in common by members of the Parsons Beach Association — all descendants of the original owners — is seen from a home at the far end from the pubic access point. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking on Parsons Beach Road, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. Left, a sign posted at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk notes that the beach is privately owned, and while the public is invited to enjoy the site, that access may be terminated at any time. (Duke Harrington photos) KENNEBUNK — A plan to require beach parking stickers at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk may not be as cut-and-dried as it first appeared.

At its June 9 meeting, the, Kennebunk Board of Selectmen voted unanimously 5-0, with Kevin Donovan and Christopher Cluff absent, to require beach parking permits to be displayed on any cars parked on Parsons Beach Road.

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said he reached an agreement to manage the parking with Larry Dwight, who owns 5 acres of the beach.

On paper, Parsons Beach Road runs all the way to the ocean and Dwight owns everything to the east of that right-of-way. However, Julia Burns Riley, who represents 10 parties who own everything to the west of the road — running a little more than a halfmile, as far as the rocks that end the wide expanse of sandy beach — said last week they want parking to remain free.

Parsons Beach and the surrounding area was originally purchased by George and Charles Parsons in the 1800s. All of their descendants, including Dwight and Riley, are members of the Parsons Beach Association, she said. Riley is the great-great granddaughter of Charles Parsons. Dwight is the great-grandson of George Parsons.


Parsons Beach as seen from the pubic access point off Parsons Beach Road. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. (Duke Harrington photo) Parsons Beach as seen from the pubic access point off Parsons Beach Road. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. (Duke Harrington photo) “Henry Parsons, George’s son, is the original person who decided this property should be enjoyed by the townspeople,” Riley said in a June 26 interview. “He put all of us with the charge to make sure this is always open to the public. There’s never been a legal agreement, we’ve just decided as a family to always do that.

“It’s very important to us,” Riley said. “Our mission is to take care of the property day-to-day, and generation to-generation, and our goal has always been to keep the beach beautiful, undeveloped and open, without town regulation.

“We don’t want people to have to pay to have to come here. “What’s most important is that it’s free.” Riley said, adding she plans to address Kennebunk selectmen at their July 14 meeting and ask them to reverse their de- cision.

For almost a decade, the town has leased Dwight’s portion of the beach. According to Tibbetts, the town pays nothing on the lease, instead taking $1,241. Dwight pays in taxes on the site and, per the terms of the agreement, “redistributing that to social service agencies in town.”

Meanwhile, the town pays to station a portable toilet and a seasonal reserve police officer at the site. Tibbetts did not have exact figures on those costs Friday, but ballparked both, plus incidental cleanup and maintenance, at a little more than $5,000 per season.

The town owns the road from Route 9 to the end of the pavement, near the mouth of the Mousam River. Although, on paper, the road continues to the ocean, in reality it banks a hard right at the end of the pavement and is private for the remainder of its length.

The available parking is not striped off but, depending on how well cars are packed in, about 15 can fit between the beach and a short, wooden bridge over Back River. Another 15 or so can fit between the bridge and the tree line where parking ends. Parking is allowed on the east side of the road only.

“We’ve talked for a number of years about how to regulate parking in that area,” Tibbetts said at the June 9 selectmen’s meeting.

Last week, Tibbetts said the agreement with Dwight served two purposes — to generate revenue to offset town expenses at the beach, and to help more locals enjoy the beach by thinning the herd of tourists.

According to Town Clerk Merton Brown, Kennebunk residents are entitled to three beach parking permits for three vehicles at a cost of $2 per year for the first window sticker, $5 for the second and $5 for the third. Residents also are allowed unlimited seasonal passes for guests at $20 each.

For nonresidents, the cost for a beach parking permit is $20 for the day, $75 for a week, or $150 for a season.

Reno LeBlanc, who’s policed Parsons Beach for the past eight years as a member of the Kennebunk Community Service Team, says parking is a precious commodity on his beat.

“By about 9 o’clock in the morning, we’re full,” he said. “If you happen to come by after that and somebody’s leaving, you can take their place. Otherwise, we’re full.”

Public reaction

Meanwhile, several beachgoers on Friday — most of whom were from away — said they’d pass on Parsons if made to pay the $25 per day, and none found the weekly or seasonal rates to be much of a bargain.

“We wouldn’t have come,” said Aaron Noyes of New Hampshire. “Part of New England heritage is sharing what you have. I think it’s important to maintain that heritage and let the public come here. Why charge them? What do they have to gain by it?”

Noyes was making his first trip to Parsons Beach, having been tipped off while in York that it was a good place to bring his two young sons to see seals.

Lauren Howe of Vermont has been bringing her two children to Parsons Beach every season for the past six years — all of the kids’ lives, basically.

“We have thought about camping elsewhere, but we’ve stayed in the Wells area because we love this beach so much,” she said. “We spend most of our vacation week coming here. It’s just a beautiful spot. The free parking is fantastic and I love that it’s so limited, because it means there are less people at this beach. I don’t like to go to a beach that’s super crowded.

“I would be really sad to see that happen,” Howe said of the selectmen’s pay-to-park vote. “We potentially won’t come in the future, or else we’ll find someplace else to park.”

On Friday, Howe and her family parked across Route 9 on Brown Street and walked the mile-long length of Parsons Beach Road because all of the beach spots were full. Tibbetts has said parking would remain free on Brown Street. However, there is room for only about a dozen cars there.

Meanwhile, a woman walking with Howe, who refused to identify herself beyond claiming to have graced Parsons Beach for 37 years, had nothing but praise for the property owners.

“The people who own the beach, we’re lucky they let us use it at all,” she said. “The Parsons family owns all of this land. They don’t need to let us on it. They do it to share their land with us and I think that’s incredible.”

A sign at the trail entrance to the beach says access to the public could be “terminated at any time.” However, Riley says that would never happen.

“We will never do that,” she said. “Legally, we could do that, but we would be heartbroken to do that.”

But just as difficult for the family, she says, is its need to go public on the issue of public access.

“The only thing I would say is that we are a really private family,” Riley said. “We try to not put ourselves out there, and so this is difficult, knowing this is going to be in the newspaper, because we’ve never really said anything. But this was a time when a lot of people (in the Parsons Beach Association) were very upset and did not want people to believe this was our decision.”

Private concerns

Riley says she and other family members were unaware of Dwight’s recent talks with Tibbetts, learning that parking permits would be required only when reading about it in the June 19 issue of the Kennebunk Post. The family meets twice per year to discuss property concerns, and has plans to gather again this Saturday, she said. Although Riley met with Tibbetts on June 23 to express the family’s objection to the new parking permit requirement, as of late last week, she had not spoken to Dwight about the issue.

However, that should not be taken to indicate any bad blood between family members.

“It’s upsetting to us for sure,” she said, “but I think this was just a misunderstanding about the property and who owns what. It seems to me what happened was that Larry was talking about his piece and it’s unclear why Barry (Tibbetts) may have thought he was talking about all of it.”

Riley said her understanding of the agreement, based on her June 23 meeting with Tibbetts, is that the beach parking permit was meant to be required only of people who turn left at the access trail, onto that portion of the beach owned by the Dwight family and leased to the town, and not to people who turn right, onto the beachfront owned by other Parsons descendants.

“I’m not sure how you would police that,” she said. “That was the agreement, but that’s ridiculous, and that’s not what the Parsons family wants.”

For his part, LeBlanc declined to say if he’d be able to enforce such a policy.

“That’s not for me to decide,” he said. “I just work here.”

Dwight, who sits on the town budget board, could not be reached by telephone and did not respond by deadline to a request for comment sent via email.

Meanwhile, in a June 26 interview, Tibbetts declined to get into left/right issues, or to say if, by referring to Parsons Beach at the June 9 selectmen’s meeting, he had meant everything used by the public, or just the portion leased by the town from the Dwight family. In his presentation at the time, Tibbetts referred directly only to Dwight. However, the selectmen’s vote did not place any directional conditions on the permit requirement.

Tibbetts also avoided saying whether, in this instance, he thought Dwight was speaking for the entirety of the Parsons family, or only his slice of it.

“I don’t know about communications between Larry and the family. I can’t speak to that,” he said. “I’m going to say that Larry has always been my main contact for things down there. My contact has always been with him. I didn’t have many contacts with anyone else from the family.”

Riley said last week that, based on her talks with Tibbetts, the parking permits will not be required until after she speaks to selectmen July 14. Tibbetts, on the other hand, said cars without permits are not yet being ticketed only because signs announcing the requirement aren’t installed and “won’t be ready for four to six weeks.”

Tibbetts also said he discussed with Riley the possibility of the Parsons Beach Association making some donation to the town, in order to help offset the public cost of policing beach access, if they want parking to remain free.

“I think access to the beach is a wonderful thing,” Tibbetts said. “We’re just looking at, how can we recover those costs?”

However, what happens next is ultimately up to the board of selectmen, he said.

“They’ll probably be very amendable to making some modifications based on those (July 14) discussions,” Tibbetts said. “I think this whole thing is very solvable.”

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