News Feature

Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, March 29, 2018
Stonington selectmen mull downtown parking, Island Community Center

by Rich Hewitt

Selectmen on Monday took steps to provide additional parking for fishermen downtown and also mulled over what next steps to take regarding the Island Community Center.

Newly-elected chairman Donna Brewer raised the parking issue, stating that fishermen feel as though they are being pushed out of town by the revised downtown parking ordinance which limits summer parking on Hagen Dock and downtown to four hours. She urged the selectmen to open Hagen Dock to all-day parking.

That suggestion raised issues that have been raised before. With no limits, Evelyn Duncan argued, fishermen will take all the parking spots at 4 a.m. and leave no spaces for tourists. Brewer countered that business employees continue to park in front of their workplace, taking up spaces on Main Street. Town Manager Kathleen Billings raised concerns over Isle Au Haut residents taking up spaces all day if there were no time limits on the dock.

Brewer suggested that allocating 10 spaces on Hagen Dock for fishermen might be a step that would help the fishing community. That raised many logistical issues, including whether fishermen should be charged for those spots, as they are for spaces on the commercial fish pier. It also raised concerns that once those 10 spots were filled, fishermen would just park in other spaces on the dock. Towing is not an option because no one will do it any more. The town had allocated funding for extra patrols by the sheriff’s department, but staffing issues last summer left the town without any officers to enforce parking rules.

A quick reading of the parking ordinance, however, showed that it already provides six parking spaces for fishermen on the dock. Those spots were never marked, nor was their availability to fishermen publicized. Brewer pushed to have that number increased to 10, but Billings pointed out that changing the ordinance would require a public hearing.

John Robbins suggested that they stick with the six spots that are already approved.

“Let’s try the six and see what happens,” he said.

Billings said she could have signs made or have the public works crew paint the spots designating them for fishermen.

Meanwhile, the selectmen mulled issues surrounding the ICC in the wake of the town meeting vote that instructed them to extend the lease an additional six months beyond December 2018. The discussion Monday was wide-ranging, but the key issue seemed to be concerns over the town’s liability in relation to some of the deficiencies in the building. Brewer made it clear that she wanted information from the insurance company about those issues and how they related to the lease. Duncan noted that the lease specifies that the town is responsible for the outside of the building while the ICC has responsibility for the inside. She added that many of the problems with the building, such as mold, are inside the building.

Robbins suggested that a solution might be to donate the building to the ICC. Travis Fifield, the town’s newest selectman, said that might not be a bad idea. He reported that the ICC had voted to hire a development director, and suggested that owning the building might give the community center more traction in raising funds.

Although the town owns the building, the two island towns, Stonington and Deer Isle, both support the ICC operations financially. Robbins suggested that the two boards of selectmen from the towns should meet to discuss this and other island issues. But Brewer stressed that the town should have a clear understanding of what its liabilities, both legal and insurance, are before the selectmen begin talking with anyone.

In other action on Monday, the selectmen discussed a snow plowing issue on Larrabee Lane. Billings noted that it is a narrow road and the plow crews don’t have anywhere to turn around. Some residents along the road, she said, have been giving the crews a hard time and have refused to allow the trucks to turn around on their property. She said it may be necessary to suspend town maintenance of the road for the winter months if a solution can’t be found. Selectmen were sympathetic and suggested that she write to all the residents on the road, explaining that if a solution can’t be found, the town might end plowing on the road which would leave them responsible for the snow plowing on the road.