Scarborough council asked to revisit land swap
SCARBOROUGH — A Pine Point Residents Association member wasted no time on Wednesday asking the new Scarborough Town Council to walk away from the council decision last summer to swap land with a local motel.
During public comments, after the swearing in of returning Councilor Carol Rancourt and first-time Councilor Jessica Holbrook, Avenue Three resident Judy Shirk congratulated the councilors, whose opposition to the land swap was supported by the residents association during the campaign. Shirk said the vote indicated residents were angered by the town's approval to trade more land than it received in return.
Holbrook's election ousted former Councilor Richard Sullivan, who was the swing vote last July.
After Shirk spoke, residents association member Sue Perrino, of Driftwood Lane, called for the council to revisit last summer's decision and negate the agreement it made with Lighthouse Motel owners Peter and Nick Truman to trade a portion of Depot Road in front of their motel for the motel's parking lot.
The deeds have not yet been signed to complete the transfer, prompting Perrino to say the Trumans "want to be able to walk away" from the deal if they can't get Planning Board approval for the new parking lot to be constructed on the property they will receive from the town in the deal.
"The town can walk away, too," she said.
Councilors did not respond to Shirk or Perrino.
When asked Thursday morning if she would consider bringing the land swap issue before the new council, Rancourt, who was elected chairwoman at Wednesday's meeting, said she didn't think reconsideration is possible, or at least not for a full calendar year after the initial decision.
Although she said she does not feel "beholden" to the Pine Point Residents Association for re-election support, she added she believes the group has some "valid points." But she said she did not address their concerns during the meeting because she doesn't "believe in immediate responses."
"My personal style is to listen and then take the time to evaluate what they said and apply it to the issue and respond at the following meeting either in words, actions, or even a motion," she said.
Holbrook, who had significant support from members of the Pine Point association, on Thursday said she would consider Perrino's request.
"I know there was some question of whether or not you can go back," Holbrook said. "I don't know if we can, but I'm definitely open to that – I'll have to look into that."
During Perrino's three minutes at the podium, she also criticized the town for holding task force meetings "behind closed doors."
Town Manager Tom Hall created the panel and attends its meetings. It was formed to come up with a plan for the property the town will receive in the swap, combined with a small adjoining parcel donated by the Beach Walk subdivision developer. Its plan will eventually be introduced to the public and the council for comments and possible revisions, Hall said.
The task force members are Pine Point residents Jack Callahan and Joan Laurie; John Wiggins, a representative of the Beach Walk subdivision; Public Works Director Mike Shaw; Town Engineer Jim Wendel; Assistant Town Planner Jay Chace, and landscape architect Keith Smith.
Private meetings of the task force are not illegal under Maine's Right to Know law because the panel was not organized by an elected official and there are no elected officials present at the meetings.
In a phone interview Thursday morning, Hall said he doesn't know if the council can legally reverse the swap decision, but believed it would be "highly irregular" to do so.
"I think it would be very bad practice to undo a very recent action from a previous council that was clearly well-debated and discussed," he said. "Certainly the decision was not made in haste."
Hall said he was not surprised by complaints about his decision to keep the task force meetings private. After the vote to approve the land swap, the council could have decided to form its own committee to address the design, but no one came forward, he said.
"My intent is not to freeze anyone out," he said. "Let's not forget I purposely added two members from the neighborhood; I have come to know and appreciate they have a unique perspective. If I didn't want to listen to that, I wouldn't have invited them to the process."
As for the delay in signing the documents, Hall said he thought the Trumans decided to wait to be sure they have approval for their new parking lot.
The motel owners appeared before the Planning Board for parking lot approval in early November, but were asked to return with additional information and some alterations.
Chace on Thursday said he understood from that meeting that board members agreed "the general layout of the 22 parking spots looks like it's going to work, so it's a matter of details."
"What they were saying is you meet the zoning regulations; now it's a matter of meeting the site plan performance standards," Chace said. "I think the Planning Board is well on its way – they just want to make sure."
Standards include details like lighting, type of fencing and driveway width.
The board also wanted the Trumans to work closely with Hall's task force. Hall said Peter Truman has been invited to participate in the next task force meeting.
Chace said he expects the Trumans to appear before the Planning Board again when the task force has completed its work.
The Trumans were unavailable for comment.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story was corrected on Nov. 20 to more accurately reflect comments by Judy Shirk.