Cape Elizabeth councilors continue debate over paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A year after voting to once more extend the town’s rights to paper streets, the Town Council continues to grapple with what action to take on streets in Shore Acres and at Lighthouse Point Road. 

In October 2016, the town’s rights to paper streets – roads laid out in subdivisions, but never constructed or accepted by the town – were maintained, allowing 20 years to decide whether they would like to permanently accept each street or vacate their rights. 

At a workshop on Oct. 2, the council discussed these options. 

Councilor Caitlin Jordan said she would like to see action taken before two new councilors are elected in November, rather than “kicking the can further down the road.”

The council also discussed a Fort Williams Park director position and a standing Renewable Energy Committee. 

Chairman Jamie Garvin began Monday’s discussion of paper streets by saying he does not think the council should look at the issue as binary – the only two options being permanently accepting or vacating streets. 

“We have spent almost no time whatsoever on looking at (if) there’s anything across that vast divide that may be a workable solution for many,” he said.

Some councilors seemed confident in their stance on the issue, while others felt more information was needed. 

Councilor Jessica Sullivan said she would be in favor of continuing extension and delaying any further action, but would prefer the town accept the streets.

If the town does not take action during their 20-year extension, their rights would “lapse” or be vacated without affirmative action. 

“Here we have a town asset … why would we give that away,” Sullivan said. “I would prefer to accept because when it’s accepted it’s done.”

As she stated at prior meetings, Councilor Kathy Ray reaffirmed that she “has no intentions of giving up town assets,” and would not support vacating the streets.

Ray warned the council of lawsuits, saying that if she were a resident of Shore Acres with deeded rights to walk the paper street and the town vacated, she would seek legal action, as she anticipates many residents would.

Ray said she had once been offered a monetary bribe to vacate the street, but offered no details.

She added that she respects and is concerned for residents of Lighthouse Point Road, who feel a trail would only add to traffic and parking problems in their neighborhood, but feels that should be addressed by the Police Department rather than the town. 

“Traffic and parking have nothing to do with us retaining (our rights to) the paper street,” she said. 

Garvin agreed that Lighthouse Point Road traffic is an issue, but countered that, among other things, a trail would exacerbate that.

Jordan suggested that the town accept paper streets, but prohibit trails from being built and restrict the land to town residents only. 

Garvin agreed, asking if there is a way to accept the streets, while adding a designation of who can access the land.

Jordan then acknowledged that the council needs to carefully consider and discuss the potential of legal action taken by abutters if the streets are accepted, asking how much money the council is willing to spend on legal fees.

“Where does our fiduciary responsibility kick in over our not (wanting to give) up access or rights (to streets),” she said. 

Councilors Patty Grennon and Sara Lennon said they would both like to explore the option of continuing their extension of rights, but removing them from the list of potential trails in the town’s 2013 Greenbelt Plan, preventing it from being developed. 

“I see that as a compromise,” Lennon said. “Any resident could continue to walk there … the only difference is they’d be walking on grass rather than a footpath.”

“If we accept this path, we would almost for sure be subject to litigation … (and) there’s a pretty good likelihood that we would lose,” Lennon continued, referencing outcomes suggested by the town attorney, Durward Parkinson. 

Sullivan said she thinks, regardless of action, lawsuits are inevitable,

“I think that we will be sued no matter (whether the town vacates or accepts the streets),” Sullivan said. “I, for one, am not willing to cower in the face of lawsuit to protect public access to open space.”

Town Manager Matt Sturgis said that, if the trails are accepted, they must be developed as a travelable “right of way,” but not necessarily as a Greenbelt trail. 

“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 be to continue their extension rather than permanently accept the streets. 

The council plans to hold an executive session with Parkinson to discuss these possibilities before its next council meeting Oct. 11. 

Park director

Sturgis provided the council with a draft job description for a Fort Williams Park director to oversee management and serve as a point person for all park stakeholders.

Public Works Director Bob Malley said that about 50 percent of his days are spent solely on managing operations at the park. 

Sturgis stressed that he would like to see the position approved and filled by next the end of the 2018 fiscal year next June, so that Malley would have time to bring the director up to speed before the park’s busy season.

He added that there is both a demand and enough funding from revenues generated from the park to make the position possible, and estimated the position would pay between $60,000 and $70,000 annually. 

Sullivan agreed that now is the time to readjust the budget and bring someone in.

Sturgis said since word of the position hit local newspapers after it was initially discussed Sept. 18, he had received three inquiries from people interested in the job. 

“There are people out there who have an affinity for this,” he said.

Standing committee

Grennon, on behalf of the ad-hoc Alternative Energy Committee established in the spring, asked the council to consider a standing Renewable Energy Committee. 

The committee would have five members, with three-year terms. Their duties would be to make recommendations to the council for advancing the town’s long-term environmental sustainability goals, implementing sustainable energy options, explore energy cost savings, and promote and educate the public on sustainable energy efforts and opportunities. 

Grennon said the recommendation to make the committee standing, rather than ad-hoc, was because the town has already had two ad-hoc Alternative Energy Committees. 

“It formalizes the community’s interest in exploring renewable energy options,” Grennon said. She added the description followed one used  in South Portland.

Ray said that she does not believe the town needs the committee. Sullivan added that she does not feel there is enough work to merit a standing committee. 

Lennon said she thinks the committee is a great idea. 

“A lot of people in town are very passionate about renewable energy,” she said. 

The council will vote Oct. 11 on whether to send the proposal to the Ordinance Committee for review. 

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.