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Pine Point land swap once again on Scarborough council agenda

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Pine Point land swap once again on Scarborough council agenda

SCARBOROUGH — Opponents of a land swap between the town and owners of a Pine Point motel will have one more chance next week to persuade town councilors to reject the deal.

The swap would give the town access to a small parcel of donated property to create a public turn-around for beach-goers and would move the Lighthouse Inn's parking from across the street to next to the building. The swap would retain access to the water for both parties.

At a July 15 meeting, after several hours of public comment, Town Council Chairman Mike Wood and Councilors Ron Ahlquist, Shawn Babine and Richard Sullivan voted in favor of the swap and Councilors Karen D'Andrea, Carol Rancourt and Judy Roy voted against it.

Three subsequent orders related to the swap all passed 5-2, split the same way except for Roy, who changed her vote to support the orders.

Ordinarily, the decision would have ended the debate.

But council rules allow any councilor who voted with the majority to move for reconsideration. Because of this, members of the Pine Point Residents Association, who fought for either an alternative land-trade plan of their design or for more time to study the issue, have deluged councilors since mid-July with e-mails, phone calls and letters asking them to reconsider. They believe the swap short-changes the town because the motel would get more land than it would give the town.

Town Manager Tom Hall maintains the trade gives both sides what they want.

Sullivan in particular has been inundated with correspondence after he indicated during council deliberations that he was inclined to vote against the swap.

"I've spoken to people that are very, very angry and I've received a lot of nasty letters," he said. "When they start getting too nasty, I stop reading and throw them out."

He said some letters have been full of "just a lot of hatred" and at least one warned him to "wait until November," alluding to his plans to run for re-election.

"It's getting to the point where it's harassment," Sullivan said. He said he does not plan to change his vote. 

Ahlquist said while he appreciates the history surrounding Pine Point, "the fact of the matter is this council is going to embrace the history and look to the future."

And Wood said a lack of new or different information has convinced him to stand firm.

Babine said he, too, would be standing by his previous vote, adding he's disappointed by misinformation that's been promulgated by some opponents of the swap.

"A woman from Massachusetts who summers here called me and said her entire rights to the right of way to the beach are being taken away and how can I allow that to happen?" he said. Babine said he assured her that was not true.

Babine said he also received a call from a resident threatening a lawsuit to block the swap based on the historical significance of Depot Street. That same caller said the suit could be prevented by using the group's plan, even though it also involves giving up a portion of that road.

Two councilors who voted against the swap have requested an agenda order to revisit the decision. Rancourt and D'Andrea both said they believe more time and discussion are needed before making a decision.

"I've been of mixed feelings all the way along," Rancourt said.

While she acknowledged she encouraged Hall to negotiate a swap with motel owners Nick and Peter Truman, Rancourt said Wednesday "there's nothing in this deal" to compel councilors to make a rushed decision. In addition, she said the council should require the Trumans to put up some cash for improvements as part of the deal.

D'Andrea said she would like to see the council take more time to develop a plan and secure money for the improvements before making a decision.

"I think there are a lot of problems and I would like them to be addressed," she said.

Though it is unusual for a councilor in the minority to place an item on the agenda for reconsideration, the precedent was set years ago in Scarborough, Wood said.

In the order, all four items will be lumped together "because they all rise and fall together," the town manager said. And, while a councilor in the minority can put the item on the agenda, if none of the four councilors who approved the swap make the motion to reconsider, the original decision will prevail.

Even if a motion is not made, the public will have a chance to comment.

For Rancourt and Sullivan, the stakes are high. Both are up for re-election, and both insist their decisions have not been compromised.

"I certainly would not go this far for something that I just thought might get me a few votes," Rancourt said.

And Sullivan said he must represent residents from all parts of town.

"If they deem (my) decisions bad, I guess they will vote the way they feel," he said.

The land swap will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, in council chambers.

Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or proberts@theforecaster.net.