Cape Elizabeth reaches decision on paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council extended the town’s rights to Surfside Avenue this week when it made final determinations about the fate of paper streets.

Councilors on Oct. 5 voted 4-3 to extend the rights to Surfside and a nearby road, Atlantic Place. Councilors Sara Lennon, Caitlin Jordan and Patty Grennon were in the minority.

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 57 paper streets and discussed whether to accept them as trails or public ways, extend their status as paper streets for another 20 years, or vacate the streets and divide the properties among abutting property owners.

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.

Councilors on Wednesday accepted 19 paper streets, extended 32, and vacated seven. The streets to be accepted and vacated were approved unanimously. 

Included in the group of 32 paper streets with rights extended is Surfside Avenue, which is between Pilot Point, Algonquin and Waumbek roads. The status of Surfside, which offers wide ocean views, divided councilors in the past.

On Wednesday, when discussing the streets to have their rights extended, councilors decided to vote on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place separately. The rest of the streets up for extension were approved as a group.

Councilors Lennon, Jordan and Grennon didn’t explain the reasoning behind their votes, and neither did the other councilors, because of the amount of time that’s already been spent discussing the issue. Additionally, at the start of the discussion, Chairwoman Molly MacAuslan said the council would only take public comment from people who hadn’t previously addressed the council. 

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

Councilors on Wednesday voted to ask the Conservation Committee to take another look at including Surfside Avenue on the Greenbelt trail. The council is giving the committee six months to report back.

For the paper streets accepted as public ways, the Town Council noted that they can only be used by pedestrians and bicyclists, not vehicles. Some streets, though, may be used for vehicle turnaround.

The status of all the paper streets on the list can be found on the agenda for the Oct. 5 Town Council meeting, posted on the town’s website.

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

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council has extended Surfside Avenue’s rights as a paper street for an additional 20 years.

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.