Cape Elizabeth roundtable serves up town center discussion

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CAPE ELIZABETH — A citizens roundtable on Monday drew a relatively small crowd compared to the one held last year, but the discussion was still varied.

Slightly more than a dozen people attended the discussion in the Cape Elizabeth Middle School cafetorium, compared to around 50 people last year.

“Maybe this is just a sign things are going well in town,” Councilor Patty Grennon said.

Councilor Jamie Garvin said the turnout also had to do with the fact that the town has been holding more issue-specific forums, so people feel less inclined to come to general discussions. He also said curiosity may have played a big part last year, when the first forum was held.

Regardless of the small number of people, councilors said it’s still important to hold open discussions where citizens can share their thoughts and concerns.

“I don’t think it’s a reason to stop doing these kinds of things,” Garvin said.

Grennon agreed.

“I think people really appreciate the give and take, and knowing their voices are heard,” she said.

Council Chairwoman Molly MacAuslan said councilors get as much out of the roundtables as residents do.

“It’s a nice way to have a dialogue with people and a nice information session in both directions,” she said.

Much of the 90-minute discussion focused on the town center and how it can be more connected and pedestrian friendly.

Councilors said a new Comprehensive Plan will address those issues.

At the end of August, the council said it hopes to have a comprehensive planning committee formed by the end of the year. The committee will meet monthly for two years, conduct surveys, hold public forums, and draft the plan.

According to a memo from Town Planner Maureen O’Meara, the new plan will have “a more robust public participation process than with the 2007 plan.”

Town Manager Mike McGovern told residents at the roundtable that between the new Comprehensive Plan and new development, the town center will be evolving.

“We’re expecting to see a major change in the look and feel,” he said.

Another project residents said they are concerned about Monday is the Hill Way development. A medical office building and apartment complex at 12 Hill Way were approved by the Planning Board in May. But construction requires removing a large number of trees along Route 77.

“We expect it to be traumatic for the community,” McGovern said.

MacAuslan said she understands residents’ concerns about development, but said overall it’s good for the town to attract new businesses.

“I like seeing things changing in the town center because I don’t like seeing empty buildings,” she said. “But I understand your concern about runaway development.”

Residents also discussed public involvement and volunteerism, projects and developments at Fort Williams Park, like the new children’s garden and amphitheater, and the use of the former Spurwink School

The information discussed at the roundtable will be used by councilors as they form the Town Council goals for next year. Grennon said it’s important that residents play a role in setting those goals.

“It’s an organic process to have goal input come from citizens instead of doing a top-down approach,” she said.

The idea to hold citizen roundtable discussions came from a Town Council goal last year to improve communication and public involvement. This year a subcommittee on community outreach, which includes Grennon, Garvin, and Sara Lennon, was formed to further the goal.

“This is an example of how throughout the year we’ve been trying to have better communication with residents,” Garvin said. “It’s an ongoing process for us to get input from the public on things that are important to them.”

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

The second annual citizens rountable was held in Cape Elizabeth Sept. 19, and was led in part by Town Manager Mike McGovern, left, and Councilors Molly MacAuslan, Patty Grennon and Jamie Garvin.

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.