2015-07-24 / Front Page

Many wrinkles to beach changing issue

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Town Council may soon decide how parking is regulated along Bayview Avenue at Higgins Beach in future beach seasons.

The Town Council’s Ordinance Committee decided Tuesday to recommend amending the town’s Traffic Ordinance and Use of Parks and Recreational Facilities Ordinance in an effort to curb the problem of changing in public that some residents say has plagued the beachside neighborhood in recent years.

Those changes will be part of an upcoming full council discussion.

The amendment to the parks and recreational facilities ordinance added a section about dressing, indicating, “Dressing, undressing and the changing of clothes are not permitted within the limits of any park or beach, except in bathhouse or other structures suitable for this purpose.”

The ordinance does not apply to children 5 years old or younger, nor does it set out penalties for infractions.

Committee member Jean-Marie Caterina said the language is taken from a similar ordinance in York.

“It’s helpful to have an ordinance on the books. We are not looking for police to be waiting around to catch people,” she said.

Fellow Committee member Ed Blaise also supported the amendment.

“I totally agree with this. We are not proposing eliminating any parking. We just don’t want the behavior of changing clothes to be done out in public in front of people’s windows or in front of people walking along the streets,” he said.

Committee Chairman Kate St. Clair was less comfortable moving the idea along for a full council debate. St. Clair said some police chiefs, Scarborough’s included, have expressed concerns about the enforcement of York’s ordinance.

“The amendment is too broad. It is going to create numerous issues,” she said, adding she would like to seek a legal opinion of the proposed change as part of the council’s deliberations on the matter.

The committee also made a slight amendment to the traffic ordinance that will now allow onehour parking only from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. along the ocean side of Bayview Avenue from the drop-off zone to Morning Street. It is currently allowed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

While it was supported by Blaise and Caterina and will be reviewed by the entire council, St. Clair objected to this change as well. She said she has heard from many people who say the 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. hour is the only window of time they have in their schedule to enjoy the beach.

Several of the Higgins Beach residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting, including Cliff Street resident Karen Haskell, said the answer to the issues is to simply remove parking from Bayview Avenue and force people to park at the town-owned parking lot and changing facilities a short walk away.

The lot is open free of charge from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. every day. Beachgoers who come to the beach between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. are charged $10.

“There are very few beaches that have these type of facilities. We have an excellent parking lot. We have an excellent changing facility,” said Gifford Reed, of Houghton Street.

The parking lot, with the changing facility, is one of the many improvements Reed has seen since he started coming to Higgins Beach in 1965. Other improvements, he cited, include the reinforced seawall, sidewalks and weekly seaweed removal.

Paul Reising, of Shipwreck Road, said when parking was first allowed on Bayview Avenue several years back, he envisioned the spaces being used for short walks on the beach, brief sunbathing or surfing, not as a venue for changing.

“One thing I wasn’t envisioning is using car doors as changing stations. If it is on the driver’s side, it can impact traffic. Whether or not it is legal, is it appropriate? On no street I can think of is it allowed to change clothes in a parked vehicle,” he said.

Vin Bombaci, who lives on Bayview Avenue, asked the committee why this type of behavior is acceptable in his neighborhood, but not others.

Melissa Gates, Northeast regional manager for Surfrider Foundation, understands what concerned residents are saying, but feels what is happening along Bayview Avenue is not out of line. She did, however, offer to share residents’ concerns with the Surfrider email list so group members are informed.

Brian Tolli, a Broadturn Road resident, who has been surfing at Higgins Beach since the late 1990s — often in the early morning hours — said limiting the parking in any way is not the solution.

“I don’t personally see how this is causing so much commotion,” he said. “Maybe I am not seeing what you are seeing. I am part of this surfing community and I haven’t see any atrocious behavior while I am there.”

Maureen Burns, who has lived on Morning Street for the last six years, has also not seen improper behavior from her home or while walking in the neighborhood.

“I’ve never had one encounter that was bad,” Burns said, adding better signage or allowing surfers to access the parking lot to change for free could ease concerns.

“I expect this behavior. It’’s a beach,” she said.

The Ordinance Committee also spent some time Tuesday discussing whether the consumer fireworks ordinance that was put into place three years ago needs tweaking.

St. Clair said she has heard from residents who are concerned about the fire danger when consumer fireworks rain down on their homes after being set off on abutting or nearby properties.

It is something Blaise has dealt with at his Higgins Beach home.

“I go to bed at night and wake up in the morning with debris all over my roof,” he said of nights around the Fourth of July.

Caterina was spending time at Higgins Beach on Friday, July 3 and said consumer fireworks were “going off all over the place.” Consumer fireworks are permitted in Scarborough, but only around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Day. They are prohibited on public property, including beaches. Scarborough is one of the few greater Portland communities that allows consumer fireworks.

Caterina said she has “major concerns” about fire due to consumer fireworks near where she lives on outer Gorham Road.

Now three years on the books, St. Clair suggested perhaps it is time to revisit the ordinance.

“This ordinance was a wonderful first step. I wasn’t (on the council) at that time, but I know a lot of thought went into it,” she said.

The Ordinance Committee hopes to gather public opinion about whether the ordinance needs to be readdressed. The group meets again at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Return to top