2017-05-26 / Front Page

Beach parking study put on hold

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — When it comes to the law of supply and demand, the question in Kennebunk is whether the town should supply as many beach parking permits as people demand.

The town has about 220 parking spots on Beach Avenue, serving Gooch’s Beach, Middle Beach and Mother’s Beach. However, that’s not really enough to meet demand. Last fall, Selectman Blake Baldwin reported having five meetings with residents of the beach area, who expressed frustration with number of vehicles that spill over onto their side streets during the summer.

“They’re tired of living in the midst of a municipal parking lot,” Baldwin reported to his peers at the time. “This is of major concern to them. But I never once heard any of those people say they want to limit access to the beach, that’s not their motivation. What their motivation seems to be is they want some sort of order to the chaos that descends upon them every summer.”

At a Nov. 22 meeting, the board agreed to hire a consultant to prepare a study of the beach parking issue, and to suggest solutions that would mitigate aggravation for those who live there.

However, when bids were opened in February, only one firm, Maine Traffic Resources (MTR) of Gardner, submitting a proposal — and it wanted $14,500 for the job. Back in November, former town manager Barry Tibbets said the study could be paid for using money from the tax increment financing (TIF) districts in town, causing no immediate impact to the town’s operating budget or mil rate. Still, Selectman Ed Karytko was less than thrilled with the potential outlay.

“It’s not rocket science. We have more people coming in than we have parking spaces. We already know that,” Karytko said, suggesting a consultant would not uncover any root cause to the problem not already apparent to Town Engineer Chris Osterrieder.

“This isn’t as much a parking issue as a demand issue, and someone has really got to delve into that, and that’s not an area where I focus my expertise,” Osterrieder said at the time.

Selectmen did not immediately award the contract, but instead voted to create a five-member beach parking assessment working group, tasked with vetting MTR’s proposal.

On Monday, Town Manager Michael Pardue said in response to a request from The Post for an update that the contract will not be awarded this year. Instead, town staffers will spend the summer collecting data, in hopes of reducing the workload, and thus, presumably, the bill, from any consultant that is brought in to access the issue.

“That study will take place over the course of the summer and into next year as staff collects data while identifying the challenges related to parking at and around the beach areas,” Pardue wrote. “The thought behind this project approach is that this will allow staff to perform much of the leg work ahead of time so the consulting firm, assuming one is engaged, will have a strong start on the beach parking issues we are faced with. I am hopeful this will lead to a better end product and potentially save some costs to the town.”

In the meantime, at least one resident is saying the problem isn’t just the limited number of parking spots, it’s the fact the town will sell as many permits as people will buy, which does nothing to curb demand.

“I am seriously concerned about the town’s legal liability in this matter,” wrote Zoe Archer, in an April 5 email to town Finance Director Joel Downs. “Kennebunk residents know the chance they take when purchasing a parking sticker, but tourists don’t. If I bought a week-long, non-resident permit for $100, and never got a place to park, I would be quite upset and feel cheated.

“If one goes to a Maine casino or buys a lottery ticket, one usually knows what their chances are on winning. Not so with the purchase of a parking permit,” Archer wrote. “I am not saying the town should stop selling beach stickers, but they should post a caveat that this is actually a ‘Parking Permit Lotto,’ and what their chances are at actually getting a place to park.”

Beach parking permits are required on Beach Avenue from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., between June 15 and Sept. 15.

Permits are free to residents, who may purchase a parking sticker for a second vehicle for $5, and for a third at $10, while their guests can get a permit on their vehicles for $25.

Guests at area hotels and motels pay $50, while visitors from out of town pay $25 for a one-day permit, $100 for a week’s worth of parking permission, and $200 for an entire season.

There are no special permits for handicapped spots. Parking spots go on a first-come, first-serve basis and, according to Downs, there is no time limit. Once somebody secures a spot, they can squat on it for the entire day.

In answer to one of Archer’s concerns, selectboard chairman Dick Morin wrote in an April 5 reply that non-residents who buy parking permits at one of three on-site kiosks generally do so after finding a spot, intimating that few people get no use out of their paid permit.

According to Downs, for calendar year 2016, the town sold 15,051 parking permits for the 220 available spots, on which it cleared $165,927. That broke down, he said, as 9,496 resident permits (good for $33,236 to town coffers), 2,022 guest permits (for $40,440), 528 motel permits ($10,560), 2,749 non-resident day permits ($54,980), 117 non-resident full week permits ($8,775), and 129 non-resident season permits ($20,850).

To date in 2017, with the summer season still one week away, the town has collected $26,006 in sales for beach parking permits, Downs said.

For Archer, the fact that the town sells so many more permits that it has spaces, is a questionable practice, at best, even when considering the number of cars that come and go during a day.

“Not a bad profit for selling something that does not exist,” she wrote. “I am not an attorney but I checked the definition of fraud and this certainly seems like it to me, and probably to a lot of other people, as well.”

“Simply counting permits doesn’t provide sufficient information to draw conclusions,” Morin wrote in reply. “It is unrealistic to think that all permits are being utilized at the same time.

“A more comprehensive approach to beach parking should be considered,” Morin wrote. “Such things as off-site parking potential, better use of the spaces currently available [to include time limits], permit sales, mass transportation or a version thereof, and more, [which will come] from consultants who have likely dealt with issues such as this in other communities and can tackle our situation head on with multiple proposals, quite possibly.

“To think that it is simply lines, signs and time just isn’t so,” Morin wrote. “If it were, we would not be having this conversation right now.”

Still, for one more summer at least, it appears those looking from a place to park, and those frustrated to see so many find it on-street next to their homes, will have to content themselves with the status quo.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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