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Blueberry Hill paving narrowly advances in Cumberland

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Blueberry Hill paving narrowly advances in Cumberland

CUMBERLAND — The Town Council vote 4-3 Monday to allow a driveway to be laid over about 300 feet of town-owned property at the end of Greely Road Extension.

The property is part of an unbuilt portion of roadway between Greely Road Extension and Pleasant Valley Road, and is often utilized by hikers going up what's commonly known as Blueberry Hill. The driveway would be 12 feet wide and engineered to address drainage and erosion issues down the hill toward neighboring properties. The driveway's surface has not yet been decided.

Regardless of the licence, vehicle access is allowed to anyone along the portion of unpaved road, so denial would not have limited property access except that the rocky area is not generally car-friendly.

The council's vote charges Town Manager Bill Shane with drafting a driveway license, which is expected to come before the council for final approval next month.

Robert and Michelle Simonds, who own 4.4 acres on Black Oak Drive between Bruce Hill Road and Greely Road Extension, are dividing the property in half to build a second house, and requested permission in January to construct a driveway to the new house from the end of the unpaved portion of Greely Road Extension.

The issue was heard by the Lands and Conservation Commission, but its decision – which consisted of two contradicting votes – was seen as controversial at Monday's Town Council Meeting. The commission's initial vote was to recommend approval of the driveway request, because a site walk had indicated no other option for placement of the driveway. Robert Simonds was present at that meeting.

In a second meeting, which Simonds said he knew nothing about until afterwards, the commission revoted to recommend denial of the request. The commission cited new information, including the possibility of building the new driveway as an extension of the Simonds' existing driveway, entering the new property from the side opposite of that proposed.

Building the new driveway off the existing one would require cutting trees over about 300 feet, but would not require any town oversight of drainage issues.

Several councilors, including Chairman George Turner, balked at the what he called the commission's "flip-flop" voting, which Turner said suggests some disingenuity.

Other councilors and members of the public felt that regardless of the commission's inconsistency, building the driveway over land commonly used for recreation would diminish public access to the benefit of only the Simonds.

Resident Bob Vail, who is a member of the planning and school boards, said that building a private driveway over public land "sends the wrong message to the town that this is now private property."

Neighbors along Greely Road Extension said they are also concerned that their children and grandchildren would no longer be able to sled down the hill where the driveway is proposed.

While recreational use is generally accepted on Blueberry Hill – an area councilors and citizens alike pegged as unique and worthy of preservation – Councilor Jeff Porter pointed out that the area frequented by most recreational users – the view from the top – is actually private property posted against trespassing.

Though public use gets a wink and a nod, Porter said, the use of Blueberry Hill is limited by private property rights, and not controled by the town. Whether or not to preserve public access to a posted private property, he said, shouldn't be an issue.

Further concerns were raised over whether this driveway was the first step toward a connector road between Greely Road Extension and Pleasant Valley Road. Some suggested that the best way to prevent this would be for the town to give up the property meant to be a town road.

"Over my dead body will that road go all the way through," Turner said. At the same time, he added, the Comprehensive Plan favors through-roads, which could lead a future council to put one in.

The matter has not yet been fully discussed, though some, including Councilor Ron Copp, suggested that it will likely come up again. It has been suggested that Rebecca Leland might develop her land, and would need further access in the same area. Leland was not present at the meeting Monday.

After more than two hours of discussion – which followed an hour-long workshop on the same topic – the council narrowly voted to approve the driveway request, sending it to town officials for final drafting.

Councilors Bill Stiles, Copp, Porter and Turner voted in favor of moving forward on the license; Councilors Stephen Moriarty, Shirley Storey-King and Michael Perfetti were opposed.

Final approval of the license is expected next month.

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