CAPE ELIZABETH — After more than a decade of discussion about parking fees at Fort Williams, Town Councilors on Monday unanimously approved a pay-and-display parking program to begin in July for nonresidents. 

“My opinion on this has changed over time to the point where I’m prepared to support today for a number of reasons,” Council Chairman James Garvin said at the May 13 meeting. “As elected officials here, we represent the citizens here and all share a responsibility to do what’s best in the best interest of the town.”

The 10 pay-and-display meters will be installed in five “premium” areas of the park, covering 280 parking spaces near Portland Head Light. Parking will remain free for residents and for everyone at several lots farther from the water.

Nonresidents will be charged $2 per hour for a two-hour minimum, $10 for a full day, or $15 for a season pass. Fees will only be collected May 1-Nov. 1.

Parking management service Unified Parking Partners will receive 20% of the program proceeds – or $79,000 of the expected $396,000 revenue. The town estimates its revenue will be about $317,000.

“I truly never thought that I would sit up here and say that I wanted to charge people to go to Fort Williams Park,” Councilor Penelope Jordan said. “But I’ve come to realize that our beautiful park and Cape Elizabeth is a destination for people now. It’s a place where a lot of people are coming and I think we need to become a bit more pragmatic about how we approach the park.”

Since paid parking was first considered by the council more than a decade ago, the demand at Fort Williams has noticeably shifted from residents to tourists. The town estimates 900,000 annual visitors, 60% of whom are from out of state, Sturgis said in a public hearing last week.

In November 2006, a nonbinding referendum asked citizens if they favored a parking-fee model. After voters rejected the proposal 3,145 to 1,951, another nonbinding referendum was held in June 2010, when residents again voted against the measure, 2,532 to 1,262.

Garvin said he considers the previous nonbinding votes a precedent for this new program, but also noted the previous questions did not provide detailed implementation plans.

“A lot has changed in nearly a decade since those votes took place,” he said. “With both of those referenda in the past, there was not only significant opposition, but well-organized and well-vocalized opposition that we’re not seeing today.”

The increased number of visitors has added wear and tear to Shore Road and additional costs for portable toilets, which are growing factors in maintaining the park, Councilor Valerie Deveraux said.

“If we have a way to offset some of those expenses and make it revenue neutral, I really think that’s in the best interest of our town,” she said.

Nonresident visitors to Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth will be charged for priority parking starting this summer.

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