ORLEANS—The town had hoped to use part of the former Nauset Knoll Motel property above Nauset Beach for parking during its planned retreat from the town lot below due to erosion. This summer season has indeed seen parking at the site, but very much not the way the town wanted.
The new lease holders for what is now the Nauset Beach Inn have put up signage inviting beach goers to take a right just before the town's collection booth and park at the inn. The fee is $15, $5 less than the $20 town charge.
“Clearly the [Cape Cod National] Seashore has granted permission to that lessee to rent out parts of that for parking,” Town Administrator John Kelly said at the end of last week's selectmen's meeting after Selectman Kevin Galligan had mentioned the new arrangement. “It's not an improved parking lot. It's simply grass.”
The inn operators and the former long-time lease holder declined to comment, and repeated email inquiries to Seashore Superintendent Brian Carlstrom were not answered by press time. Town counsel Michael Ford is reviewing the situation.
A visit to Nauset Beach last Friday just before noon revealed a confusion of signs. The first was on a post on the inn's property that announced “PARKING FULL/Sorry.” Just beyond was the town's collection booth, where people were paying to park on the still-open town lot. No cars were parked on the inn's front lawn.
The town depends on revenue from parking to help operate its beaches; shortfalls are met by tapping general funds. Costs have risen in recent years as responses have been required to challenges ranging from erosion to sharks. With parking spaces at Nauset Beach eliminated to allow rebuilding of the coastal dune and re-siting of the picnic area, changing rooms, and other facilities, the town is using its overflow parking lot farther up the hill past the motel more regularly.
As part of its staged retreat, the town was interested in bidding on the lease for the motel property when the longtime lessee chose not to renew. The plan was to relocate buildings and parking from the lower lot over a number of years. The winning bidder was required to pay the Seashore an annual minimum rent of $150,000 and 10 percent of annual gross income; the details of the winning bid have not been released by the Seashore.
Admitting that the situation probably amounted to “water over the dam,” Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison shared his concerns with his colleagues nevertheless on July 17. “We were told it had to be a motel,” he said. “We were told we can't put an administration building there, that we can't do other things there, or we're not allowed to do x, y, z. Now all of a sudden somebody else is doing x, y, z.”
Selectman Mefford Runyon said he thought town regulations didn't allow parking on grass. “This is federal property,” Kelly said. “It's exempt from a lot of your rules... It's all about the Seashore making money on this property. That's why they quadrupled the rent. At the end of the day, I don't know what control you have. If they were building an improved parking lot, there would be some question whether they could do that without reviews. Drainage could create a problem.. What happens when you have heavy rains and mud?”
On Monday morning, a handful of vehicles were parked on the grass at the inn. There was a steady stream of cars heading straight to the town collection booth. For their $20 payment to the town, drivers would get all-day access to both Nauset and Skaket beaches plus a spot closer to the ocean, the food truck court, and changing facilities.
It appears that the motel had dialed back the presentation of its parking alternative, which according to one report once included someone waving cars into the property. A sandwich sign advertising the option has been placed farther back from the entrance and no “encourager” was seen.