CAPE ELIZABETH — Town Councilors raised their voices Monday night, but not to be heard over one another.
They were trying to speak over the sound of a generator pumping electricity into Town Hall.
While many surrounding towns and cities canceled Monday meetings due to damage and power outages from this week’s powerful storm, the Town Council held its scheduled workshop to discuss paper streets.
The council’s hope was to hold the workshop so a vote could be scheduled before two new councilors join the panel. Councilors voted Monday night to move their next regular meeting from Nov. 13 to Monday, Nov. 6 – the night before Election Day.
At that meeting, the Council will vote on whether to vacate or permanently accept paper streets on Surfside Avenue/Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road.
Paper streets are roads that were laid out in subdivisions, but never built or accepted by the town. In 1997, Cape Elizabeth’s rights over the town’s paper streets were extended for 20 years by the state, and a re-evaluation must be completed this year.
Last October, the council voted to extend the town’s rights to the streets once more. If the town does not take action in the next 19 years, the rights would “lapse” or be vacated without affirmative action.
While residents of Lighthouse Point Road have seemed unified in their desire for councilors to vacate the street, residents of the Shore Acres/Trundy Point neighborhood are at an impasse.
The Ocean View Association – comprised of homeowners of seven properties abutting the Surfside Avenue/Atlantic Place paper street – would like the town to vacate its rights to the street, while other members of the neighborhood with deeded or implied rights to walk the paper street have urged the Council to accept it as a town asset.
In recent months, allegations have been made about abutters being unwelcoming and hostile to those walking the path – including Councilor Kathy Ray, who said she was questioned until the homeowner realized Ray is a councilor.
Andrea Adams, secretary of the Ocean View Association, said on Monday that when the association bought the land which the street lies on in 1991, it offered all residents of Shore Acres a deed for recreational use. At the time, 71 residents accepted the easement. Since then, she said, others have received the same offer.
If the town vacates the street, Adams said the association would not “put up any gates or deny anyone their rights to the street.”
“We simply do not want the trail to be put on the map,” she added. To Adam’s knowledge, she said, no one has ever been berated or scolded by neighbors for walking along the path.
Councilor Caitlin Jordan said if the streets are vacated, she would like to see the Council have faith in the association’s statement that it would welcome Cape residents to the street.
Councilor Jessica Sullivan said the association’s claim to offer deeded rights was not a “very meaningful offer.”
“I would prefer to accept (the Surfside Avenue/Atlantic Place street). … I do insist that it is a town asset because the right (to the street) itself is an asset,” Sullivan said, adding she was “disturbed” that the Council is even considering vacating the streets.
“If we move to vacate, we’re done,” she said. “We could never get those rights back.”
Ray also said she would vote to accept the streets.
Lennon, on the other hand, spoke in favor of vacating.
“I can’t in good conscience accept (this street) … If we vacate, we avoid a very long and costly litigation,” she said, noting outcomes suggested by the town attorney, Durward Parkinson.
Lennon and Jordan also said they would vote to vacate the paper street on Lighthouse Point Road. Councilor Patricia Grennon said she is leaning toward a vote to vacate. Sullivan and Ray, however, were steadfast in their view to maintain the town’s right to all potential assets.
Jordan added that the council can’t accept the streets without having a plan for developing the path within a reasonable time – whether it’s a road, utility access, or as part of the Greenbelt Trail.
On Oct. 2, Town Manager Matt Sturgis said if the trails are accepted, they must be developed as a travelable “right of way.”
“If you’re not using it as a right of way, you’re not living up to the intent of what the street is there for and you will be challenged,” he said. If the Council does not want to do anything with the land at the time, Sturgis said the best bet would continue the extension rather than permanently accept the streets.
Sturgis said it is his understanding councilors will vote on the three streets separately. There will be six potential motions – one to vacate and one to accept each street.
“It is incumbent on all of us to come next week ready to vote,” Lennon said. “Enough is enough.”
Cape Elizabeth town councilors are now scheduled to vote Nov. 6 whether to accept, vacate, or continue extention of their rights to paper streets on Surfside Avenue, Atlantic Place, and Lighthouse Point Road.
A week before the Cape Elizabeth Town Council’s Nov. 6 vote, signs lined Route 77. One said “Accept Paper Streets,” followed by one urging “Save Shoreline Access.”