CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday adopted a recommendation from the Conservation Committee to install a sign at Cliff House Beach requesting “good behavior” from all users.
Residents of South and Stephenson streets also presented the council with a petition to re-erect a fence to block traffic from Aster Lane to South Street. But Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said the council would not discuss the fence issue because it is could be a factor in ongoing litigation.
In response to resident requests, the Conservation Committee held a public forum May 8 to hear possible interim management measures for Cliff House Beach, which is accessed by a stairway at the end of Sea View Avenue.
At the meeting, residents Chris Campbell and Wyman Briggs summarized an online survey of neighbors that circulated in April, which found major concerns about dogs, parking, traffic and beach fires.
With those concerns in mind, the committee focused on measures that could be implemented this summer, without requiring any changes to town ordinances.
Committee Chairman Jeremy Gabrielson said there is confusion in the town ordinances over where dogs are allowed, either on- or off-leash, which the committee also must address.
But it is not expected to so until fall.
As of now, all dogs within the boundaries of a “groomed or regularly maintained municipal property” must be leashed at all times.
“As the fall comes around, we will be looking more broadly at the dog ordinance and what exactly is meant by ‘groomed areas’ in the ordinance,” Gabrielson said. “That will give us the opportunity to revisit the use of the beach.”
In the meantime, the panel proposed installing a sign at the top of the Sea View Avenue stairs as soon as possible, and then evaluating the impact next winter.
The sign would simply state the town requests beach users to be considerate of all visitors, keep dogs under control, remove all waste, leave the beach cleaner than they found it, and consider walking or biking to the beach.
Committee members and residents agreed the sign should omit mention of beach fires, to avoid encouraging more fires.
According to the recommendation, Police Chief Neil Williams supported the installation of a sign, but Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said the department would not enforce dog rules until the ordinance is changed.
Town Manager Matt Sturgis suggested that, because the town is spending $25,000 to fix the steps at Cliff House Beach – which will be closed for about a week beginning on July 19 while the stairs are repaired – it could be considered a town-maintained property.
Still, councilors opted to stick with a softer approach to address concerns, rather than focusing on enforcement of a town ordinance.
Last month, plaintiffs Chris and Julie Munz, of 5 South St., sued the town, Margaret Birlem and Noelle DeLuca in Superior Court to overturn a Planning Board ruling that allowed Birlem and DeLuca to extend a private road 80 feet from Aster Lane.
Birlem and DeLuca, who live on Spurwink Avenue, requested the extension to create frontage for a buildable lot they purchased at what would be 8 Aster Lane.
In a petition sent to the town, residents of South and Stephenson streets said that immediately after the board’s ruling, a gate separating Aster Lane from South Street, which is a private way, was removed.
Residents reinstalled the gate on June 24, but it was once again removed on June 25 under the “permissive presence of the town police.”
Since then, the petition states, residents of South and Stephenson streets have “been subjected to a substantial increase in public traffic.” Residents on Monday voiced their concerns to the council, and said increased traffic puts their children in danger.
Julie Munz said she and her husband chose to move to South Street because it was a dead end, hoping it would be a safe environment for their son, who has epilepsy and “wanders without regard to oncoming traffic.”
Residents asked that the town take up the issue of the gate, with the hope that one could be installed pending a decision by the court.
Councilors questioned the layout of the streets and application details, saying they were only recently made aware of the lawsuit. Councilor Caitlin Jordan said she felt “in the dark,” asking where the lawsuit stands “procedurally” and what the timeline of litigation looks like.
Town Attorney John Wall said there is a chance the parties will be able to come to an agreement before a judge hears the case. If not, Wall said briefs will likely be exchanged between September and October.
Because the gate could be part of the discussion that would lead to a court ruling, the council did not make plans to further discuss the petition.
“We are actively in litigation on the issues that have been presented here tonight,” Sullivan said. “On advice from the town attorney, the council will not be commenting.”
The Cape Elizabeth Town Council on July 9 unanimously approved a Conservation Committee recommendation to install a temporary sign at Cliff House Beach requesting respectful behavior by beach users until the council can further review town ordinances.
This homemade notice at the Sea View Avenue entrance to Cliff House Beach in Cape Elizabeth will be replaced by a town-sanctioned sign.