Visitors to Fort Williams and Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth must now pay parking fees. The fees went into effect July 1 with 10 kiosks installed in five areas of the park. EVELYN WAUGH/South Portland Sentry

CAPE ELIZABETH — Paid parking went into effect on Monday, July 1, at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth with motorists now having to visit one of the park’s many parking kiosks, enter their license plate number, and display the ticket on their dashboards.

The town installed 10 parking meters in five areas of the park. Of the 280 parking spaces, those closest to the water and the Portland Head Light, became paid spots.

It costs $2 per hour to park in one of he park’s prime parking areas. There’s a two-hour, or $4, minimum. Daily and seasonal passes are $10 and $15, respectively. Parking is paid for by credit card only.

“It’s still free for everyone to park near the playground in the back of the park,” Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said. “And it’s still free off-season, November through May.”

A parking kiosk is shown at Fort Williams in Cape Elizabeth. EVELYN WAUGH/South Portland Sentry

Councilor James Garvin explains that the town wanted to leave some non-premium spots free to still allow everyone to visit the park. “We understand that paying to park is a burden for people. We tried to have as light a touch as possible while at once gaining revenue,” he said.

It’s estimated that the parking fees will yield $396,000 in revenue for the 2020 fiscal year. Of this, Cape Elizabeth will receive $317,000, or 80 percent. Some 20 percent, or $79,000, will be retained by Unified Parking Partners, the parking company contracted by the town.

Paid parking was approved by the town council in March. Revenue will be used “primarily for operational expenses of Fort Williams Park, long-term capital needs of the town, and general municipal operating expenses,” according to the Cape Elizabeth town website.

Revenue from the parking fees is expected to cover Fort Williams’ $300,000 annual operating budget.

“I don’t know how I feel about it yet,” said Keith Lamarre, who lives near Fort Williams Park. “I do think they slipped it under the radar. There was no public vote on it.”

In 2006 and 2010, there were two non-binding referendums put out to the voters to gauge public opinion that broadly asked the question: Do you favor paying for paid parking at Fort Williams?

“Both times it was put out there, the response from Cape citizens was that they did not favor paying for parking at the time,” Garvin said. “A lot has changed since then.”

In November 2018, Sturgis assembled a document answering common points of Fort Williams parking discussion.

“The relationship between resident to non-resident use has reversed over the past 9 years,” he wrote.

The document reveals that an estimated 900,000 visitors visited Fort Williams in 2018, of which 40 percent were Maine residents and 60 percent were from out of state. In 2009, an estimated 500,000 visitors visited the park, of which 72 percent were Maine residents and 28 percent were out of state visitors.

“It’s clearly not the community park it once was,” Cape Elizabeth resident Jim Kerney said during a town public hearing in May. Kerney had initially been opposed to the fees, but changed his mind due to changes in the visitor traffic in the park, the Portland Press Herald reported in May.

“If we’re going to have close to a million visitors a year, we need some help in sustaining the fort,” Sturgis said. “This year we’ll be spending upwards of $530,000 in the park.”

At a May council meeting, the councilors voted unanimously in favor of introducing pay-and-display parking to Fort Williams.

“We didn’t hear the groundswell of opposition that was present in the past,” Garvin said. “It seems, by and large, that people are very accepting of it. Of course, longtime residents have always seen the park as completely free and may be averse to this change. But the need is there in terms of funding the operation of the park.”

Cape Elizabeth residents, paying for the park in the form of property taxes, are exempted from having to pay the fee at parking meters. The $15 pass allows those in nearby towns to visit the park regularly for less than the hourly or daily rate.

“The roll out has gone smoothly, and people seem to be having no trouble adjusting,” Garvin said.

The pay-and-display parking, scheduled to begin July 1, was halted by technical difficulties on its first day.

“A few of the computers went down, including the one closest to the Portland Head Light,” Sturgis said. “By Tuesday morning, they were up and running, and we haven’t had any problems since.”

It’s not clear from the Cape Elizabeth website during which hours the pay-topark policy applies. Whether it applies at all hours during which the park is open or during a specified range of hours is not, at this time, listed under the site’s list of highlights pertinent to the paid parking.

There is a link on the site that indicates paid parking applies from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. However, at the park, there are no signs stating this, and none of the parking kiosks specify this, either. This leads to some confusion.

“We paid to park,” says Barbara Bradwood, one of a group of friends visiting from New York. It’s 6 p.m. on July 8. The group is in consensus that you must pay to park until 7 p.m … $4 for 2 hours isn’t bad.”

Another from the group, Sandra Rennie, said, “Does it go towards the park? Then it totally works. If it’s going someplace good, it’s fine with me.”

Another group visiting the park after 6 p.m. also paid to park. They were visiting from Fort Meyers, Florida, standing near Portland Head Light, taking panoramic shots of the bay on their cellphones. They’ve been here for five days, and flew home July 9.

“Four dollars is cheap. Come down to Naples. You’d pay $10,” Michelle Batista, one of the group, said.

“No, the park should be free. Taxes pay for it. That’s the way it should be,” Jim Philips said.

Charlotte Philips disagreed.

“It’s only $4 for two hours parking. Who cares? It’s less than the price of a beer.”

The town will re-evaluate the parking program in July 2020.

In the meantime, Sturgis said, the town is planning to put in a couple more kiosks to make it easier for people to pay and park.

Evelyn Waugh can be reached at [email protected].

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