Cape Elizabeth council approaches decision on paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council is expected to finalize the status of the town’s paper streets on Oct. 5.

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 by 2017.

Over the past year, councilors have reviewed the town’s 55 paper streets and discussed whether to accept them as trails or public ways, extend the status as paper streets for another 20 years, or vacate the streets and divide the properties among abutters.

When councilors began reviewing the streets last year, they first asked the Planning Board and Conservation Commission for recommendations. The council then held a series of neighborhood meetings to discuss the paper streets with residents who live near them.

After a public hearing held Sept. 12, councilors decided to make a decision about each paper street on Oct. 5. During the public hearing, a couple dozen people spoke for an hour and a half.

Most of the conversation centered on Surfside Avenue, which is between Pilot Point, Algonquin and Waumbek roads. The status of that particular paper street, which offers wide ocean views, has divided councilors in the past.

Surfside Avenue was the topic of discussion in 2013, when the Conservation Commission suggested making the paper street part of the town’s Greenbelt trail system. Residents along the road said they didn’t want people walking through their backyards, although other residents said the road should be accessible to the public.

On Monday, the council heard additional public comment. Speakers were split about whether Surfside Avenue should be accepted as a public way, extended as a paper street, or vacated, but most supported the first two options.

Edward Fowles, of Surfside Avenue, said he wants the status as a paper street to continue.

“There is no intention to limit pedestrian access to Surfside Avenue,” he said. “The access has been a historic precedent, it is deeded, and I have no desire to see it changed.”

Fowles said he wants to know what the town would gain from accepting it as a public way, and if the town would maintain the road if it is accepted.

Priscilla Armstrong, of Avon Road in Shore Acres, said she wants the Town Council to extend the road’s status.

“For Cape Elizabeth to lose the potential opportunity to have all citizens of Cape Elizabeth be able to enjoy that, I think would be a real loss,” she said.

Maynard Murphy, of Pilot Point Road, said Surfside Avenue, as well as another nearby paper street, Atlantic Place, should be accepted by the town. The roads would make great additions to the Greenbelt Trail System, Murphy said.

“As many of us know, the Surfside and Atlantic Place paper streets would be one of the most scenic portions of the Greenbelt Trail system in town,” he said. “So please accept or extend Surfside and Atlantic Place for the greater good of the citizens of our town.”

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council must decide by the end of the year whether Surfside Avenue and other paper streets should become public ways.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.