CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council voted Monday to maintain the town’s rights to paper streets on Lighthouse Point Road, Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place.
Residents packed council chambers at Town Hall; the standing-room-only crowd nearly filled the room to its capacity of 230. Some held green sheets of paper, reading “Accept,” which were passed out at the door by members of the Save Our Shoreline Access Coalition.
Councilors could have vacated or accepted the streets, which are laid out in the town’s subdivision plan, but were never developed or completed.
Instead they voted to take no further action after an October 2016 vote to extend the town’s rights for 19 more years.
Chairman Jamie Garvin took a moment before the discussion to address concerns about the accelerated scheduling of the Monday night meeting, which typically takes place on the second Monday of the month.
Garvin said moving the meeting up was a request from outgoing Councilor Kathy Ray, who had a scheduling conflict on Nov. 13 and wished to be present at her last meeting.
But the council forgot to vote on rescheduling at its regular October meeting, and instead made the decision at a workshop last week, which Garvin called an oversight.
“We would’ve moved the meeting regardless of what was on the agenda,” he added.
About an hour of public comment preceded the council’s discussion of potential action on the paper streets.
Town attorney Durward Parkinson warned that either a vote to vacate or accept the streets would likely result in litigation with residents with either deeded or implied rights to the streets.
Councilor Kathy Ray said she was not easily shaken by potential lawsuits and would like nothing more than to accept the paper streets, but understands that “might not be the way to go.”
Councilor Penelope Jordan proposed maintaining the town’s now-19-year extension to further discuss a solution and allow discussions with all parties in the Surfside Avenue/Atlantic Place debate, with the hopes of reaching a compromise.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan agreed discussion could be constructive.
“There is no emergency with this,” she added. “We have nothing to lose and we could gain an agreement.”
Critical input in the facilitated discussions would come from members of the Ocean View Association – whose homes abut the paper streets – and members of the Save Our Shoreline Access Coalition – who have encouraged the town to accept the streets as a town asset.
Councilors Sara Lennon and Caitlin Jordan – who have spoken in support of vacating the rights – were at first skeptical of the proposed motion and its legality and financial impact on the town, but ultimately supported the forums.
Caitlin Jordan amended the motion to include the hiring a paid facilitator.
Ray suggested the town send action on the streets to a referendum vote, which Sullivan supported.
But the majority of the council was reluctant to consider the idea.
“The popular sentiment might not be the right decision for the town,” Garvin said.
Ultimately, the council decided to take no action on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place – maintaining their rights – and tasked Town Manager Matthew Sturgis with developing a process for public forums and working with Parkinson to draft language for a non-binding referendum question.
A motion from Caitlin Jordan to vacate the paper street on Lighthouse Point Road failed by a vote of 5-2. Lennon was also in favor of vacating.
The council asked Sturgis to come back to its Dec. 11 meeting with the name of a facilitator for the public forums, with the hope of reaching a consensus by next March.
Cape Elizabeth residents queue up Monday night, Nov. 6, to express their views on whether the town should vacate or maintain its rights to paper streets. At the podium, Andrew Ingalls asks the town to vacate paper streets along Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place.