SCARBOROUGH – The Scarborough Town Council will soon revisit the ongoing issues with parking at Higgins Beach, where a late-summer assault highlighted tensions between residents and beachgoers.
Town Manager Tom Hall said Friday the council will gather in a special session, possibly as early as Sept. 28, to review public reaction to parking changes put in place this season.
During the winter, councilors voted to ban on-street parking from the entire beachfront community, funneling cars to either the town-owned parking lot on Ocean Avenue, acquired last year from the Vasile family, or a new strip of one-hour spots added on Bayview Avenue.
Conflict between residents and surfers over those new beachside spots percolated all season, finally bubbling over in an assault charge Sept. 2.
“My sense is that tensions were heightened a bit more this summer than ever before,” said Hall. “I guess that doesn’t come as a surprise. That certainly was not our intent, but I’m not surprised.”
The assault occurred when Mary K. Sills, 59, of Trussville, Ala., confronted a pair of surfers, accusing the first of overstaying her allotted time, and the second for parking outside the 10 designated spots.
Adam Steinman, 47, a senior vice president at Woodard & Curran and attorney for the Maine chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, got a $40 parking ticket for his part in the altercation, along with two pops in the nose from Sills, who was arrested and charged with assault.
According to Scarborough Police Detective Rick Rouse, Sills confronted a 36-year-old surfer from South Portland at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 2, accusing her of overstaying her welcome, allegedly saying, “I hope you get cancer and die.”
Although Sills accused the surfer of having squatted on the parking spot for three hours, Rouse said, Reserve Officer Cody Lounder, passing by on his afternoon patrols, disputed that claim, and warned Sills, who “smelled of alcohol and had slurred speech,” not to harass the surfer.
According to police, at 7:49 p.m., Sills, now carrying a full wine glass, confronted Steinman. Because the female surfer confronted earlier by Sills had felt threatened, Steinman said, as he was leaving he pulled from a legal parking space to a spot where he could watch his friend safely to her car.
Steinman said Sills first confronted him about being in a no-parking zone, calling him a “stupid Yankee,” then went after his friend, at which point Steinman he got out of his car to step between the two woman.
“She said that she was a taxpayer and that we had no right to be there,” said Steinman.
In Steinman’s recounting of events, after blocking Sills’ attempt to slosh her wine onto him, Steinman said, “she then poured her wine on my head and threw her glass onto the pavement at my feet. I was a little concerned about that because didn’t have any shoes on.”
“Then,” said Steinman, “she punched me in the face.”
After grabbing Sills by the shoulders to quell the outburst, a debate ensued over just who was assaulting whom. When Steinman agreed to let go, Sills hit him again, he said. Steinman said he again tried to restrain Sills by the shoulders, but this time she stumbled as she tried to pull away and fell to the ground, where she stayed until police arrived, called by witnesses to the event.
Officer Garrett Strout reported that Sills complained of hitting her head in the fall, but that she refused aid from the rescue service.
Police essentially corroborated Steinman’s account.
“It was immediately apparent that the female was highly intoxicated,” wrote Strout in his report. “She had a difficult time standing in one spot and was unsteady on her feet. Her eyes were watery and very bloodshot and she had the odor of intoxicating liquor emanating from her breath. When I asked her what happen she had a difficult time articulating the incident.”
Sills, who could not be reached for comment, must return to Maine for a Nov. 2 court date.
Steinman said he lived on Higgins Beach from 2007 to 2010, and that surfers and residents existed in a state of detente at that time, although others, including Police Chief Robert Moulton, recall parking issues going back decades.
“Basically,” said Steinman, “it all comes down to three families who have decided that Higgins is a private beach and that they are going to do everything to limit access to it.”
Members of the Higgins Beach Association held a private meeting on Monday to review the season and to prepare for the upcoming Town Council deliberations.
On Friday, the group’s president, Roger Chabot, declined to comment on the incident between Sills and Steinman, or to characterize the summer from the homeowner’s perspective.
He referred all comment to Bill Donovan, chairman of the association’s Civic Committee, who led Monday’s meeting.
On Tuesday, Donovan also declined comment.
“The Higgins Beach Association won’t be communicating the position it plans to take before the Town Council until it is communicated to the town manager,” said Donovan, noting that Hall was out of state until Wednesday at a professional conference.
“We are putting together a package of information for the town to document and identify the problems and the experiences that the people at Higgins have had this summer with the parking, but that is in the works and wont be finished for a bit,” said Donovan. “We don’t want to have our voices not heard, but we want to respect the fact that we said we would communicate to the town manager our position and that, as we settled on it, he’d be the first to know.”
For his part, Steinman has several suggestions. Although he complains that spaces have been eliminated at the Ocean Street parking lot, not that they have been formally delineated, he’s concerned about plans to expand the lot into adjacent wetlands.
Instead, Steinman said parking spots should be added to either end of the Bayview strip, where available spaces are currently striped off. He also suggests shrinking the size of the drop-off zone and increasing the parking time to 90 minutes, since an hour seems to say, “Surfers not welcome.”
In addition, Steinman said, the daytime ban on surfing should be canned in favor of a flag system – flag down, surfers allowed; flag up, surfers out of the water – that would allow surfing on bad-weather days when few people are using the beach.
A planned bathhouse cut by the council during budget season also would be welcome, said Steinman, although he discounts the popular complaint of surfers changing in public, on Bayview Avenue.
“There’s no nakedness,” he said. “When people do get into their wetsuits, they do it under a robe, or behind a towel. You don’t see any more than a bikini on the beach, or someone in swim trunks and no shirt.”
Hall said he’s sure the public nudity issue will be raised when the council convenes its hearing.
“The Town Council finds itself, as it does often, in that unfortunate spot of having to provide for access by to public while also respecting individual property rights,” he said.
To that end, Hall says he is busy gathering parking and incident data from Community Services, which manages the Ocean Street lot, and from Scarborough police.
“Up until now, everything has been subjective,” said Hall. “Everyone has an opinion and many are convinced of their opinion, but it was really just that. We hope out upcoming talks will be more fact based.”