SCARBOROUGH – Parking on streets at Higgins Beach would be almost entirely banned all year if the recommendations of a residents’ committee are approved. But other residents are balking, saying the plan is too restrictive and not appropriate.

At issue is the chronic problem of traffic congestion in the Higgins Beach neighborhood and how to solve it.

Currently, parking on the streets at Higgins Beach is prohibited from April 1 to Oct. 1. Beginning in October, parking is permitted on all streets, including along Bayview Avenue, which runs parallel to the beach. Beach-goers also have been able to park in a lot on Ocean Avenue, which can hold between 80 and 100 vehicles, in the summer months for a fee and in the fall, winter and spring free of charge. The town purchased the lot, a short walk to the beach, earlier this year, to keep cars away from the residences closer to the beach.

The Higgins Beach Ad-Hoc Parking Committee thinks its solution meets the needs of everyone. Made up of residents of the Higgins Beach area, a town councilor and a representative of Surfrider International, the committee is expected to issue its final report to the Town Council in the coming weeks.

Committee member and Councilor Judy Roy said the major recommendation the committee approved is to have no parking on any street, at any time, except for several short-term parking and drop-off spaces on Bayview Street between Pearl and Ashton streets, from Oct. 1 to April 1. The existing April to October ban would be maintained, as well.

“The committee, I think, will present a report that is well thought out and that really meets the needs of the town of Scarborough, this neighborhood, and the number of people coming here either for a short time or for a number of hours,” said Morning Street resident Bill Donovan.

Roy said she wanted to see a greater compromise for short-term parking on Bayview Street during the summer months, something that is not permitted today.

The committee, she said, is currently fine-tuning the recommendations. It could be presented to the Town Council for first reading on Oct. 20, Roy said, with a public hearing and second reading following the Nov. 2 town election.

Whatever gets decided, Roy said, the topic should be readdressed to see how effective it was.

“You can write ordinances, but you always have to review them and look to see if it worked,” she said. “If it hasn’t, why not or if it has, is there anything else to add to it.”

The problem of congestion on the streets around Higgins Beach has increased, Donovan said, and impacts the safety of the area.

“There is a desire to reduce the amount of traffic congestion for public safety and quality of life,” Donovan said. “Everything I have heard from the community, from this neighborhood, is the public is welcomed. All we, the residents, want is to have Higgins Beach enjoyed by everyone.”

Donovan said all he and fellow property owners in the area, including the 270 residents who have signed a petition supporting the year-round parking ban, want is for the town to understand that Higgins Beach is a neighborhood.

“We just want the town and the public to realize this is a neighborhood, just like any other neighborhood in the town. Yeah, we have a public beach, but all we are asking is that the public operates in a way that doesn’t affect our quality of life,” he said.

Not all property owners at Higgins Beach, however, support the recommendation. Ocean Avenue resident Iver Carlson, a member of the Northern New England chapter of Surfriders International – an organization of surfers aimed at preserving the ocean and its resources – and a member of the ad-hoc committee, said the recommendation is not appropriate.

“I feel strongly that we need to keep the longstanding off-season parking agreement [of permitting off-season parking on Higgins Beach streets] up,” he said, adding that doing so would keep parking policies consistent with parking regulations near other beaches.

Carlson said traffic congestion is not a problem in the off season, which other Higgins Beach residents have claimed. He said the beach usually only gets busy a few times a month when the surf is right; otherwise, the area, in his opinion, stays relatively quiet.

Janice Parente, chairwoman of the Surfrider chapter, said a counter petition has been circulating against the ad-hoc committee’s recommendation.

Many in the Surfrider organization, including Carlson and Parente, feel the issue at play is not parking, but unfair stereotypes against surfers and the surfer culture.

According to Donovan, there have been countless times where he has looked out his living room window to see a surfer disrobing on the side of the street because the beach does not offer changing rooms or bathrooms.

That, Carlson and Parente said, is a rarity.

“Most of us obey the rules, surf at the right times and park appropriately,” Carlson said.

“The concern is about a small group of people who are breaking rules that are already on the books,” Parente said.

She added that as a whole, Surfriders International has been committed to improving Higgins Beach for all to enjoy, through its regular water quality testing and beach cleanups.

“We care about the beach. We care about the water quality and we care about the sea life,” she said.

Tom Murphy, who has owned property on Higgins Beach for 40 years, said he feels the committee recommendation should work.

“There is always some confrontation when you are dealing with a scarce resource,” he said. “The solution is not perfect for anyone, but I think it should work. We are not trying to exclude anybody. We just want everybody to have the same consciousness to the rules rather than being in this ongoing feud.”

The issue being brought up, he said, is not a matter of beach access, but rather convenience.

The very setup of the neighborhood, Murphy said, adds to the congestion, with nearly everyone coming to the beach navigating through Ocean Avenue and Greenwood Street to get to and from the beach.

Residents hope the town taking control of the parking lot on Ocean Avenue will help relieve congestion closer to the beach. The parking lot has been operated by the Higgins Beach Inn. Earlier this year, through a deal with the Valise family, the town paid $637,855 for the 1.3-acre lot, located on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Pearl Street. Through the deal, the town also gained control of 10.1 acres of property on Mussey Road. The inn’s lease to operate the parking lot runs out in April 2011.

“We would like the [parking lot] to be a tremendous mitigating factor. We hope it serves as a home for the public to go to park, use the bathroom, or change before coming to the beach,” Murphy said.

There are no bathroom or changing facilities at the site now.

Vin Bombaci, who lives on Bayview Avenue, said a proposal to revamp the parking lot and provide a bathhouse is aimed at creating a better beach experience for everyone.

“Higgins is a precious commodity that should be utilized by everyone in a responsible the respectful way,” he said.

Bombaci said he supports the idea of a public lot and public bathhouse as long as the public actually uses the facilities after they are constructed. The town, he noted, has appropriated $300,000 to be spent on the project in fiscal year 2011.

“The issue is if after being built, if the public does not use it, it becomes counterproductive, and a waste of taxpayers’ dollars,” he said.

A meeting, in which Town Manager Tom Hall will discuss the next steps regarding the parking lot, has been scheduled for Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Residents of Higgins Beach are trying to find a solution the congestion in the neighborhood, as seen here earlier this month. (Courtesy photo)

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