BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SEABROOK — Beach property owners who’ve counterfeited town-issued parking placards for renters, visitors or family to use illegally stand to lose their beach parking privileges entirely, after selectmen expressed their anger at the deception.
But fraudulent parking placards are just one of the many parking problems at Seabrook Beach, leading Selectman Ray Smith to term the situation there a “nightmare.” Town officials hope to pull together a committee made up of the stakeholders in hopes of developing solutions, some of which may even need Town Meeting approval.
With a police department substation at the beach this summer, officers have been diligent, patroling and enforcing parking, fireworks, public drinking and other regulations at the beach, according to police Chief Lee Bitomske. It was during one of those patrols this weekend that an officer discovered the illegal parking placards.
“Our officer was about to write a parking ticket when the person (who owned the car) ran out and said not to issue the ticket because she had a parking placard,” Bitomske said. “When she brought it out, the officer he knew right away it was counterfeit. He said, ‘I’ll take that.’ ”
Bitomske had four phony placards he showed selectmen yesterday, adding officers are now pursuing the beach property owners who’ve been producing their own illegal versions. His recommendation to selectmen is that owners found printing their own should forfeit the authentic placards they were given. The action would keep them from legally parking along areas of the beach district streets.
Selectman Ed Hess expressed his outrage, adding the forfeiture should be immediate, taking away roadside parking privileges for the rest of the summer.
Parking has always been dicey at Seabrook’s public beach. Seabrook Beach is not owned by the state of New Hampshire, as are most other beaches along the coast, like Hampton. The town doesn’t restrict access to its beach, anyone can use it, but parking is tightly regulated on the narrow streets.
Bitomske said the problem isn’t strange to understand: There’s a high demand but a small supply of parking places.
To try to be fair, the town has a dual system of parking permits. One, a green vehicle sticker, is issued annually when town residents register their vehicles. The other, brown beach parking placards, are given in limited supply to property owners at the beach who don’t register their cars in Seabrook.
To complement the permits, signs indicate where vehicles with green stickers can park and where vehicles with brown placards can park. But people get creative to get a spot.
Beach residents can park in their own driveways as well. However, one bone of contention is that some beach district property owners have widened their driveways to encompass huge areas of the street, taking parking places off the road for others.
In addition, the town and the state own parts of the large parking lot along Route 1A, where parking is free. The town owns the section of that parking lot from the public restrooms south, while the state owns it from the restrooms north.
Adding to an already short supply of parking spaces for Seabrook residents who want to use the beach their tax dollars support is that many people frequenting Hampton State Beach park in the Route 1A parking lot, then walk over to Hampton. Although they should only use the state-owned portion of the parking lot, often Hampton Beachgoers end up parking on the town side, too.
“Seabrook residents from uptown often can’t find a place to park at their own town beach if they don’t get there before 10 (a.m.),” Bitomske said.
Exacerbating the congestion, patrons of Castaways, the 250-plus seat restaurant abutting the municipal parking lot, also fill up spaces in the lot.
According to Selectman Aboul Khan, town officials have met with state Sen. Nancy Stiles, R-Hampton, as well as the town’s executive councillor, Chris Sununu, about the problem. Solutions are being investigated that include installing meters to the parking lot, making it less attractive for Hampton Beachgoers to park there. Expenses for the meters would be underwritten by the state, he said, with Seabrook enforcing as well as maintaining them. Revenue from the meters would be split between town and state, he added.
And other avenues are under consideration, Khan said.
“The town is considering acquiring the (state portion) of the parking lot,” Khan said.
Whatever the committee comes up with will most probably be controversial, for it will be impossible to please everyone, Bitomske said. But it could end up that new town policies will be created to make a bad situation less bad. If so, voters could see them on the Town Warrant in March, Khan said.
“It’s going to take something big,” Smith said. “Because we’re not talking about a small problem.”