SCARBOROUGH — The Scarborough Town Council took a step toward putting new restrictions on parking along Bayview Avenue on Wednesday night, upsetting surfers and other beach users who say the proposed ordinance will reduce access to Higgins Beach.

More than 100 people gathered at Town Hall for a sometimes heated public hearing on two ordinance proposals sought by several Bayview Avenue residents that were intended to rein in surfers who park and change into wetsuits near the beach.

One ordinance proposal would have eliminated summertime beachfront parking in 13 spaces from 6 to 7 a.m. The other would have prohibited “dressing, undressing and changing of clothes” at town parks and beaches.

At Wednesday’s first reading of the proposals, the council voted 5-2 to amend the parking change, keeping the starting time at 6 a.m. but decreasing the time allowed in each space from one hour to a half-hour. The council tabled the dressing ordinance indefinitely.

Councilor William Donovan supported the amended parking proposal, saying, “Right now the Higgins Beach community feels abused.” Councilors Jean Marie Caterina, Jessica Holbrook, Shawn Babine and Edward Blaise also voted for it.

Councilors Peter Hayes and Kate St. Clair opposed the parking proposal, with St. Clair saying it was “unbelievable” that the council would further reduce public access to the beach.

Babine noted that the proposed change would align the allowed summer parking hours with those at other waterfront locations.

Caterina said she feared that if the council failed to address neighbors’ concerns, then “public access to this privately owned beach could be jeopardized.”

The council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the amended parking proposal on Sept. 16, followed by a vote on Oct. 7.

PROPOSALS CALLED ‘UN-MAINE’

The Surfrider Foundation Maine Chapter, an organization that works to protect beach access and resources for all, collected more than 1,800 signatures, most of them online, asking the Town Council to reject the ordinances.

After the meeting, Melissa Gates, a Mainer and Northeast regional coordinator for the Surfrider Foundation, said her group would continue to fight the council’s actions.

“It’s a clear attempt to deny access to the surfing community,” Gates said. “I think we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Gates questioned why Donovan didn’t recuse himself from voting on the ordinance proposals since he owns a house at the beach. Donovan said after the meeting that his property is for sale and under contract.

The vast majority of speakers at the public hearing that preceded the council’s vote opposed the ordinance proposals, with some calling them “petty,” “un-Maine” and “completely ridiculous.” Others urged councilors to avoid “regulating every last aspect of community life.”

Among the 15 who spoke in opposition, Doug Lund-Yates, a Scarborough resident who surfs and walks his dog at Higgins Beach, said the parking restriction would reduce beach access for working people. The public changing ban would discriminate against tall people who cannot change in their cars but change discreetly outside, he said.

“It’s a ridiculous ordinance,” Lund-Yates said. “It would take us back to Victorian times.”

Tom Siebert, one of two speakers who supported the ordinances, talked emotionally about being awakened regularly by car doors slamming, key locks beeping and people talking.

“This is all very disturbing at 5 o’clock in the morning,” Siebert said, adding that people who rent his family’s house have complained that “Higgins Beach used to be quiet and family friendly.”

NEVER-ENDING BATTLE OVER ACCESS

Chairwoman Holbrook noted that parking is currently prohibited on the street before 6 a.m.

The controversy over parking and public decency comes roughly four years after the town created 13 one-hour parking spots along a stretch of Bayview Avenue, which is home to both small traditional shore houses and larger beach homes. The town also recently built heated changing rooms and showers for beachgoers just two blocks away at an 86-space municipal lot on Ocean Avenue.

Higgins Beach is the latest locale in the never-ending battle over access to and use of Maine beaches, conflicts that often pit waterfront property owners against in-town residents and other visitors. In one of the highest-profile cases, beachfront property owners in Kennebunkport have battled for years over whether the public should have full access to Goose Rocks Beach. Scarborough and other southern Maine towns, meanwhile, have restricted dogs on beaches to protect endangered piping plovers.

Town Manager Tom Hall said police received five noise complaints and one public nudity or indecency complaint so far this year, none of which resulted in summonses. By comparison, the town has received 70 parking complaints and has issued 255 parking tickets.


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