CAPE ELIZABETH — A volunteer commission has advised the town to start charging admission fees for tour buses and trolleys that bring visitors to Fort Williams Park and its crown jewel, the historic Portland Head Light.

The fees would nudge the town-owned park a bit closer to financial self-sufficiency, easing the burden on taxpayers.

But town councilors, well aware that voters have soundly rejected plans to charge fees at the park twice in the past five years, appear to have little interest in going down that road again anytime soon.

On Monday night, the council tabled the recent recommendation from the Fort Williams Advisory Commission. The commission has suggested charging $40 per tour bus and a seasonal rate of $1,500 per trolley, excluding municipal recreation departments and elderly-care facilities.

Councilors voted to discuss the recommendation at a future workshop, possibly in September. They want additional information from the advisory commission, including details about how the fees would be collected.

In effect, the council’s vote means that Fort Williams will remain free for all vehicles at least through the summer of 2012, said Town Manager Michael McGovern.

Council Chairman David Sherman said he would oppose any admission fees, given the recent votes by Cape Elizabeth residents.

Voters shot down a plan for parking fees in an advisory referendum in June 2010, and rejected a different parking fee plan in 2006.

Like Sherman, Councilor Anne Swift-Kayatta noted the referendum and questioned the fairness of charging for buses while not charging for cars.

Also Monday night, the council voted unanimously to spend $350,000 to help the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust buy a 63-acre parcel off Shore Road.

Called Robinson Woods II, the parcel is essentially a large rectangle that runs southwest from the original Robinson Woods property.

The land trust has an option to buy the land for $1.1 million from Robinson Family LLC.

The land trust’s leaders will need additional funding from public and private sources to make the deal happen.

For its contribution, the town would receive a permanent public access easement over the property.

Councilors expressed strong support for the $350,000 contribution, with $150,000 coming from the town’s land acquisition fund and $200,000 coming from savings on refinancing old municipal debt.

A few residents spoke in favor of the spending.

“I think this other parcel of land is really magical,” said Ogden Williams. “It goes perfectly like two jigsaw puzzle pieces.”

Bill Enman of Spurwink Avenue questioned the wisdom of the town’s contribution. He noted that if the land trust acquires Robinson Woods II, the property will come off the tax rolls.

“The more land that goes into the land trust, the higher our taxes go, and it isn’t right,” Enman said.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]