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Cumberland panel charged with Main Street vision; islanders gain little ground on waterfront access

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Cumberland panel charged with Main Street vision; islanders gain little ground on waterfront access

CUMBERLAND — The Town Council Monday established a Village Center Committee to recommend a long-term vision for the center of town.

The council also met with a Sturdivant Island resident and discussed the difficulty of providing islanders with public waterfront access.

Councilor Michael Perfetti, who brought the Village Center Committee proposal to the council late last year, said Monday that his reasoning for creating the committee hasn't changed, and that recent events surrounding a council-approved contract zone for a credit union on Main Street dictate that "now is the time" to form the committee.

Perfetti was the only councilor who voted against the credit union's contract zone earlier this year, based on his feeling that contract zones without long-term vision are poor public policy. He was not opposed to the credit union itself, or necessarily of development on Main Street, he said, provided it fits with the town's vision. Without that vision, however, he said he could support nothing.

Perfetti said he hopes the new committee will work to form that vision. The outcome, he said, could be a recommendation to maintain the status quo, to create some kind of change in the district, which is currently residential, or some combination of both.

"I'm even OK with (the committee saying) 'contract zoning is best for what we want, and these (uses) are what we want,'" he said.

Though support for the committee was not strong when it was initially proposed last year, reaction to the approved credit union on Main Street – a citizen-initiated referendum and a lawsuit to overturn the 5-1-1 decision – and recent updates to the town's non-conforming uses ordinance turned several councilors to support the committee's formation.

Council Chairman George Turner was the only councilor in a 6-1 vote who voted against forming the committee. Though he did not explain specifically why he voted against it, he has previously expressed his support for using contract zones as a planning tool, and has expressed fear that a committee's recommendation could run against that support.

The committee's creation had public support from resident Dan Nuzzi, who has been a vocal opponent of the Main Street credit union and helped bring the decision to referendum. He agreed with Perfetti that "one of the appropriate outcomes" of the committee was to recommend no changes – and therefore no new businesses – on Main Street.

The town will seek committee members through advertisements on the town Web site. The Town Council will have a representative on the committee, but that councilor will only be a liason to the council.

Islander access

The issue of providing public waterfront access to Cumberland residents is not a new one, according to town councilors and Town Manager Bill Shane, but was recently brought up by a Sturdivant Island resident hoping for access at Town Landing Road.

Herbert Strout and his wife, Doris, recently requested that a boat landing facility be built off Town Landing Road, reasoning that seasonal islanders pay high taxes but receive very few services – and have been paying other companies to host their boats when accessing the mainland.

In addition to the difficulty of affording landing services, Strout said makeshift solutions to landing his boat have become harder as he's grown older. "It was fine when I was young and could hop around," he said, but that's no longer the case. 

In a workshop with councilors Monday, Strout said he only wants a "cheap and dirty" solution, hoping a string of floats (which he is willing to donate) could be placed over the flats such that he could have a few more hours of access around high tide. At low tide, town officials have said, sand flats extend more than 100 feet.

The idea is a good one, councilors said, but creates other problems. Putting the floats on public property would mean allowing full public access – and with barely enough room for two parked cars at the end of Town Landing Road, the public would not have true or safe access. 

Councilors recalled previous, failed attempts to give the town true public waterfront land, and apologized to Strout that not much can currently be done. "The solution to this has evaded a lot of councils," Turner said.

"We're not trying to make roadblocks for you," he added, "but solving one problem creates two more."

Strout left with a final request that town officials contact Falmouth officials about providing Cumberland residents with reduced rates at Falmouth's Town Landing. That access has been provided to Cumberland residents in the past, but not recently.

"Any way I can get to that bloomin' water," Strout said, would be a big help.

Councilors agreed to make an attempt, though they were doubtful about a positive outcome.

"I think (Falmouth's) hands are tied," Shane said, commenting on full parking lots at the other town's landing, but added that "until we ask, we won't know."

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.