The cruise ship Veendam sits in Bar Harbor in this May 2013 file photo. The Town Council on Tuesday relaxed some restrictions in Bar Harbor's downtown paid parking plan, in part to let people park near the waterfront for up to four hours while they go on guided tours. Credit: Kevin Bennett

The Bar Harbor Town Council made minor changes Tuesday evening to the town’s new paid parking plan in the downtown village and remains on track to put it into effect next week.

After some discussion about feedback town officials have received about the plan, which the council adopted in April, the council decided Tuesday to change some of the time restrictions that are scheduled to go into effect on May 15 and to remain in effect through the end of October.

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The council decided to allow people to pay upfront for a maximum of four hours of continuous parking along portions of Main, Cottage and West streets, instead of requiring people to park for two hours and then pay for another two hours if they wanted to park for the four-hour maximum.

This change will allow people who park in those areas and then go on guided tours, or perhaps to see a long movie, to not have to worry about paying for another two hours for their spot two hours into their outing. People would be able to pay remotely, if they have the proper app downloaded on their smartphone, but may not have a phone or a signal that would enable them to pay for another two hours, councilors noted.

The council also decided not to require permits for parking on residential side streets after 6 p.m. During the day, only local residents, employees, or others who qualify for and have permits will be allowed to park on side streets in the downtown village.

The council initially had planned to require permits on such streets until 8 p.m., which will be when the town stops enforcing paid parking in metered spaces or public lots. Allowing people without permits to park on residential side streets — where there will be no metered parking or other time restrictions — after 6 p.m. will give them the chance to get dinner or otherwise spend the evening downtown without having to pay for parking.

Councilors had considered ending daily enforcement of all parking restrictions at 6 p.m., including for metered spots and public lots, but decided not to do so on the advice of a consultant. Bar Harbor’s streets and public lots are fairly full until 8 p.m. or so, through the dinner hour, and not collecting parking fees during that time could inhibit the town’s expectations of generating approximately half a million dollars in revenue in parking fees this summer, they said.

According to Cornell Knight, Bar Harbor’s town manager, the cost of implementing the paid parking system, including acquiring and installing equipment, is expected to cost between $600,000 and $650,000. The free app that people will be able to use to pay for parking in Bar Harbor is ParkMobile, he said.

After the town pays off a $600,000 bond to fund the paid parking program’s implementation, town officials have said they want to use the parking revenue to acquire and establish satellite parking areas that could help ease downtown summertime traffic congestion.

“We cannot continue to saddle property taxpayers with [the burden for raising] the money we need to buy parking lots,” Councilor Matthew Hochman said.

While the town moves ahead with paid parking, another councilor said he didn’t want the paid system to be overly burdensome.

“I’m more concerned about the customer experience than about revenue,” Stephen Coston said.

Councilors acknowledged they have received a lot of feedback since they initially approved the plan last month, and said the town would most likely make changes as it finds out which elements of the plan work well and which ones don’t.

“It has been in the works for a very long time,” Councilor Paul Paradis said, adding that the council and town staff have been eyeing paid parking options for more than 20 years. “We’ve got to start somewhere.”

“It’s not perfect,” Council Chairman Gary Friedmann said. “We anticipate there will be [more] changes to it.”

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....