2015-07-24 / Community

Free parking preserved at Parsons Beach

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — Although it costs the price of a parking pass to visit most beaches in Kennebunk, a recent reversal by the board of selectmen means one stretch of shoreland can still be accessed free of charge.

At its July 14 meeting, Kennebunk selectmen voted unanimously to place “on hold until further notice,” a plan to require a town beach permit in order to park on Parsons Beach Road, the lone access point to the beach. That decision came about after owners of the private beach objected to charging the public for access.

When voting June 9 to adopt a new permit requirement, selectmen noted that anyone who did not wish to pay for a pass could park on Brown Street, located directly across Route 9 from Parsons Beach Road, and walk the mile-long length of road to the beachfront. Many do that anyway as available spots tend to fill up quickly, often disappearing by 9 a.m. most days.

For the past decade, the town has leased a portion of Parsons Beach and its associated marsh — essentially everything to the left of the access trail at the end of Parsons Beach Road — from Larry Dwight. The deal calls for the town to redistribute taxes paid on the property to various social service agencies in town.

“I haven’t calculated it yet for this year, but that comes to about $3,500 to $4,000,” Finance Director Joel Downs said at the July 14 meeting.

Town Manager Barry Tibbetts said he reached an agreement with Dwight earlier this year to better manage parking at the site. The proposal, to require a parking permit, was designed to recover some of the costs associated with managing the site, Tibbetts said. For as long as the town has leased Dwight’s portion of the beach, some of which is now in the name of Kennebunkport resident Louise Spang, Tibbetts said, it has paid to have a part-time police officer manage parking. The town also provides an on-site portable toilet.

Tibbetts said pay for the reserve officer runs to about $5,100 for the 14-week season, while the bathroom facilities cost about $2,000. The town does not maintain the beach, while trash pick up, part of routine public services work, is “really hard to isolate out,” Tibbetts said.

Adding in the beach lease brings the total cost to operate Parsons Beach to little more than $11,000 per year.

“Whether it goes to charity or not, it doesn’t go into our coffers, so that’s an additional cost to us,” said Selectman Richard Morin.

Currently, Kennebunk requires beach parking permits at Gooch’s, Mother’s and Middle Beaches. 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 permit is $20 for the day, $75 for a week, or $150 for a season.

Using kiosks installed at the three town beaches last year, Kennebunk netted about $120,000 in perking permit revenue last year. Given that the cost to operate those beaches, including lifeguards, limited beach raking and police and sanitation services, costs Kennebunk roughly $80,000 to $100,000, Tibbetts said, the plan to extend permitting to Parsons Beach seemed like a sound one.

Tibbetts has also said that, as an added benefit, given the higher costs of parking permits to people from away, the plan might serve to make spots at Parsons more readily available to residents.

But then the protests came in, and from an unlikely source. The objection to the parking plan came not from people who’d have to pay the new fees, but from the Parsons family itself.

On paper, Parsons Beach Road runs past where the pavement ends, along the access trail, all the way to the ocean. Dwight and Spang own everything to the east of that rightof way. However, everything to the west of the trail, a little more than a half-mile – as far as the rocks that end the wide expanse of sandy beach – is owned by a collection of 10 property owners, all descendants of the original beach owners.

Parsons Beach and the surrounding area was originally purchased by George and Charles Parsons in the 1800s. All of their descendants, including Dwight, are members of the Parsons Beach Association.

“Henry Parsons, George’s son, is the original person who decided this property should be enjoyed by the townspeople,” another descendant, Julia Burns 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.”

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 reportedly gave Dwight an earful at its most recent gathering. Although Parsons Beach is privately owned, the intent of the family is to maintain public access, free of charge, Riley said.

“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.

At the July 14 selectmen’s meeting, Dwight offered a full mea culpa.

“Through my negligence I did not talk to the members of the Parsons Beach Association, although I assumed I spoke for them,” he said. “I was wrong by not asking the folks down there what to do, and they let me know very definitely what to do.”

Dwight asked selectmen to reverse their earlier decision to require a beach parking permit at Parsons and, although they eventually did, not everyone was immediately on board with the idea.

“Quite frankly, if we are going to provide police services down there, either Kennebunk residents get an exclusive right to park there, or we don’t provide those services for people who do not pay taxes in this town,” said board Chairman Kevin Donovan.

However, Selectman Ed Karytko said there is a “delicate balance” at play. Take away the porta-potty and the parking offi- cer, and the Parsons family could very easily rescind its invitation to the public,” he said.

Meanwhile, Riley’s husband, Dan Riley, who spoke for the Parsons family at the July 14 selectmen’s meeting, said a way may yet be found to help the town recover its costs at Parsons Beach.

“Further discussions on a number of different provisions might be considered,” he said.

Meanwhile, for many selectmen, the bottom line seemed to be an expectation that the parking pass requirement might net the town less than expected. Although Dwight said a recent count of the 32 unlined spaces turned up just four Maine license plates, many expect those from away would either park on Brown Street and walk in, or else go someplace else entirely, should a parking permit be required at Parsons Beach.

“I think the incremental income that would be derived from this would probably be very small,” said Selectman Shiloh Schulte.

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