Polish or not to polish? Debate whether beach parking area needs upgrade

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, even when it comes to a parking lot.

Young Professionals Group leaders James Oberg and Justin McIver look at the Highland Lake Beach parking area and see what could be.

Neighbor Susan Hatch, meanwhile, likes what already is there.

“I’m not convinced that all gems need to be polished,” said Hatch, who owns property adjacent to the parking area. “Some left undisturbed and natural are priceless.”

Bridgton selectmen heard two differing visions for the public lot during a workshop session last Thursday.

McIver, who is vice president of the YPG, gave an overview of a proposal to beautify a “forgotten, neglected, old and tired, underutilized and not welcoming” asset that is a short distance to the town’s bustling downtown shopping center.

“We envision what it can be,” McIver said. “It’s just an idea that can be changed.”

The YPG hopes to “maximize” the site by expanding the parking area from about 20 parking spaces to 43, along with places for six trailers. The plan has been designed by an engineer and landscape architect, and calls for 14 LED “down” lighting fixtures, new signage, a sidewalk to connect with the one near Shorey Park (creating better “connectivity” with Main Street), improvements to the existing bathroom facility (more space to serve as a changing area), the addition of bike racks, and possibly a snack shack.

The existing boat wash area would be retained, but a new entrance would be created to improve traffic flow.

After speaking with contractors, McIver estimates the project wowuld cost about $192,000. While the YPG understands that Bridgton has several projects (wastewater and streetscape) that top the priority list, at the moment, the group hopes to receive a thumbs-up from selectmen, thus enabling them to search for possible grant money to help finance the project. (McIver has already approached the Ham Charitable Trust and received a positive response).

Oberg pointed out that the YPG is also working to improve the nearby Stevens Brook Trail system. The group looks to “revitalize” the trail, as well as install signage indicating the location and the rich history of 12 mills that once occupied space along the brook.

“We want to promote what’s special about Bridgton,” Oberg said.

Selectmen thanked the YPG for taking on the projects. Selectman Bob McHatton feels the parking area needs some “dressing up,” but worried about the timing as Bridgton prepares for some major infrastructure improvements that require full taxpayer attention.

“When Shorey Park was developed, eventually we knew we needed to do something with Highland Lake [parking area],” McHatton added.

From a budget standpoint, Town Manager Bob Peabody sees a possible “gap” in the construction timeline that could mean some available dollars for the Highland Lake project.

“We’re sensitive to the taxpayers. We’re looking at alternative ways to fund it,” McIver reiterated. “First, we want to find out is this something the town wants to do? If yes, we can then go back to the Ham Foundation.”

Susan Hatch opened the public comment time with a simple question, “Why fix something that already works?”

Hatch likes the “natural charm” of the area, as is, and raised questions regarding some proposed improvements, which could cause problems. One is adding trashcans. When trashcans were available in the past, Hatch saw residents dump household garbage in the receptacles, causing a mess.

One solution is using receptacles often placed in city environments that limit what can be placed inside them. Board Chairman Greg Watkins remained skeptical, noting how relentless some folks can be.

Another concern was loss of space for boat trailers, especially since Highland Lake does draw bass tourneys throughout the boating season.

Hatch called installation of 14 LED lights “overkill” and she (and fellow Highland Road resident Will Libbey) worried about runoff created by a paved parking surface.

Public Works Director Jim Kidder pointed out that a new brand of asphalt allows water to seep into the ground. “It’s a viable option,” he said.

Selectman Bear Zaidman invites the public to either contact town officials or send e-mails regarding their opinion on this project. For the time being, selectmen will leave the project as an “open topic” until they receive public feedback.

Please follow and like us: