Increased development pressure along Portland’s eastern waterfront has reignited a long-running concern for Casco Bay islanders, who say a loss of parking access around the ferry terminal is more than a headache and could threaten the future of their island communities.

Islanders were recently spurred to action when they temporarily lost some of the parking spaces along Thames and Hancock streets because of the construction of a new hotel. Those spaces have since been restored, but the parking hassles triggered a clarion call among islanders.

“It’s very much a sustainability issue,” said Lisa Penalver, chairwoman of the Peaks Island Council. “It’s important for the city to take care of the residents as well as they take care of the businesses.”

City Councilor Belinda Ray plans to offer a proposal Monday that would open up 30 additional spaces in the area as a short-term solution to the loss of islander parking. Over the summer, the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee will begin looking at long-term solutions.

Residents of Peaks, Great Diamond and Cliff islands, among others, often commute to Portland for jobs, athletics, school and social events. Islanders also shop on the mainland for everything from groceries to hardware and furniture.

Vehicles can be transported on the ferry, but the fees are hefty and can range from $83 to $123 a trip during the peak summer season, depending on the destination. Many leave their vehicles on the mainland and say the ability to get off the ferry and walk to their vehicles is a critical part of keeping island life sustainable.

“This is our front door,” Peaks Islander Lisa Twombly said of the city’s waterfront.

Over the years, the city has made fewer spots available where islanders can park for long periods at little or no cost. It can take years for islanders to move up waiting lists and lease a spot in nearby garages. And robust tourism activity, coupled with concerts at the Maine State Pier, are increasing competition for the limited spots that remain, adding to islanders’ frustration.

Last year, 270 island residents had special decals allowing them to park in designated, on-street spots that do not have parking meters, according to the city. But the islanders are competing with each other and the rest of the public for only 55 designated spaces on the mainland near the Ocean Gateway terminal. Islanders want more spaces to be dedicated for their use.

LONG WALKS WITH BELONGINGS

Dan Fisher, 48, said it can take him an hour to find a parking spot, which often puts him in jeopardy of missing the ferry home. That can be particularly problematic when he’s trying to catch the 5:35 p.m. ferry to Peaks Island, because the next ferry doesn’t leave Casco Bay Lines until 7:15 p.m.

Fisher said islanders used to be able to leave their belongings, including groceries and other provisions purchased on the mainland, at the ferry terminal while they searched for far-flung parking spaces. Now that’s prohibited because of security concerns. At times, he has had to park on the top of Munjoy Hill and walk to the ferry service at the foot of Franklin Street, which he said many older residents, or parents with young kids, aren’t able to do.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” he said.

Parking issues have been the subject of several meetings on Peaks Island with city officials. As of Friday, an online petition asking the city to address the parking crunch had garnered 208 signatures.

In a May 24 letter to the city, Peaks Island resident Jane Banquer noted the city’s desire to stymie secession efforts on Peaks and said the city collects more in property taxes from island residents than it spends in services for them.

“The islands are not just another contiguous Portland neighborhood,” Banquer said. “Our one similarity to other peninsula neighborhoods is the need for adequate dedicated parking, both at substantial garage expense and free on-street or open lot availability.”

She added: “Because of our unique location within Portland’s municipal boundaries, our front doors are not at our physical homes for parking purposes but (instead) at our debarkation point on the Portland waterfront.”

Mayor Ethan Strimling met May 10 with island residents to hear about their concerns, and Ray, who represents the East End and islands, attended a Peaks Island Council meeting May 23 that was dominated by the topic.

COUNCILOR TO PROPOSE FIXES

Islanders used to be able to park in two surface lots near the waterfront. However, both the Thames Street and Amethyst parking lots were taken from islanders in 2008 when the Ocean Gateway Garage opened, said City Hall Communications Director Jessica Grondin.

At the time, a developer had received a tax break in exchange for expanding the garage from 600 spaces to 720, Grondin said. For a time, 150 spaces were reserved for island residents, but the most that ever leased spaces was 35, she said.

Of the 55 street spaces where islanders can park without having to pay and without being subject to time limits, 26 were added on a temporary basis and must be reviewed annually. On Monday, the City Council will vote on renewing those spaces. When it does, Ray said she will offer an amendment that would add an additional 30 street spaces for islanders.

Ray said she also will recommend changing the two-hour parking limit for other members of the public to one hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which in theory would increase parking turnover and make it more likely for islanders to find a parking spot in time for the 5:35 p.m. ferry.

“I’m excited about this,” Ray said. “I think this is going to make a big difference.”

But islanders are not entirely sold on the idea. Many would like to see the city find additional parking spots that would be available only to islanders and closer to the ferry terminal than the ones being offered through Ray’s amendment.

“I appreciate her effort, but that’s probably not going to help as much as we had hoped,” Penalver said. “It’s a good start, but we’re still going to need more.”

Penalver said islanders have been asking the city to allow people with island resident parking stickers to park for free and for unlimited time at about 15 metered spaces on Thames Street, from India to Hancock streets. They had also asked the city to allow island residents to park in a gravel lot that is currently used as overflow for police vehicles.

Strimling was poised to offer an amendment on June 5 that would have opened up those 15 parking spaces, but was informed by staff that it would require an ordinance amendment, so it was postponed.

Because people with residential parking stickers in other neighborhoods are prohibited from parking in metered space for extended periods without paying, Ray said she didn’t want to cause confusion by opening up the 15 metered spaces on Thames Street to islanders. She also said that staff told her the metered spaces on Thames Street are often taken out of service so tour buses can pick up cruise ship passengers.

Ray said there are no spaces available in the gravel lot because excess spaces are leased to Ready Seafood, Bay Ferries and Visit Portland, formerly known as the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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