CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously approved a contract zone agreement with developer Justin Fletcher, but a petition for a voter referendum to repeal of the decision may already be in the works.
The council also unanimously approved an ordinance governing where and when dogs can be off-leash on public lands.
Fletcher plans to split his lot at 3 Longwoods Road (Route 9) in exchange for deeding the town one acre of land for an approximately 500-foot connection of Harris Road to Route 9.
The agreement would allow Fletcher to have one duplex and one house on the land. Density standards currently allow only one single-family home or one duplex on the lot.
The Planning Board unanimously recommended passage last month.
A private connection does exist, owned by Fletcher and used by people who have purchased an easement to it. With the town taking possession, that connection will be upgraded to town subdivision standards.
Public concerns about the road connection relate to speed and safety, and to the condition of the existing Harris Road and a potential increase in traffic there. The connection of Harris Road with Route 9 is consistent with Cumberland’s Comprehensive Plan, Town Manager Bill Shane has said.
Councilor Shirley Storey-King has said the connection would be a means of improving connectivity, and that one of the Comprehensive Plan’s goals is to have fewer dead-end roads.
But it is the quiet nature of such a street that attracted many of its residents, according to those who spoke at Monday’s public hearing.
Colleen Higgins of Harris Road, who also approached Shane after the meeting about circulating a petition to repeal the council vote, asked the panel to “have a vision for what is good. What is good is Harris Road.”
She expressed concern about the impact from increased through traffic on wildlife, and said the majority of Harris Road residents do not want the change.
“Leave Harris Road the way it is, please,” Higgins told the council.
Aaron Amirault said he and his wife sold their Middle Road house last fall to move to Harris Road.
“Once you do it, it’s done, it’s gone; there’s no turning back,” he said of the connection. “I think we need to look real hard at what we’re giving up; what’s going away. And it is the longest dead-end road in Cumberland. It’s the best dead-end road in Cumberland.”
Councilor George Turner said he understood people’s concerns about losing the character of their neighborhood, “and we are the last people in the world that want to see that happen.”
“But just keep in mind the fact that we’re sitting here, charged with representing everybody in the town,” Turner added. “… The perspective we’re taking is, is there an overriding reason that this will improve things as far as the overall townspeople are concerned? That’s got to be part of our thinking, just as your concerns should be part of our thinking as well.”
A repeal petition requires 599 certified signatures, or 10 percent of the number of registered town voters. They are due back to the town by Aug. 14, a month after Monday’s decision.
Higgins could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Dog leash law
Following two hours of discussion June 2 on a proposed town code amendment requiring dogs to be leashed on all public lands, the council had tabled the proposal a second time, to allow the Ordinance Committee to take another look.
The committee’s presentation Monday reflected a resident’s proposal that dogs be allowed off-leash half the day on some public lands, while they would have to be leashed on others. It would provide people options for letting their dogs run off-leash, or for avoiding off-leash dogs altogether.
The Ordinance Committee proposed that all dogs be leashed in the morning on the Greely Road side of Twin Brook, and be on voice command in the afternoon, from March 1 to Dec. 1.
Voice control is allowed on the Tuttle Road side of Twin Brook in the morning, while leashes are required in the afternoon from March 1 to Dec. 1 on the Tuttle Road side. No dogs are allowed there from Dec. 2 to Feb. 28, so that groomed ski trails can be maintained.
Leashes are also required at the Town Forest in the morning, and at the seven-acre West Cumberland athletic complex and playground at all times.
Voice command is always allowed at the Rines Forest, and from Dec. 2 to Feb. 28 at the Val Halla Golf & Recreation Center; dogs are not allowed at Val Halla the rest of the year, during golf season.
During the time of year they are allowed at Twin Brook, dogs have to be on leashes during organized activities on the Tuttle Road side, and from March 1 to Dec. 1 on the Greely Road side. Voice control is allowed at the Greely Road side from Dec. 2 to Feb. 28, and at Val Halla during that time of year.
Regardless whether a leash law is in place or voice command is allowed, no more than three dogs are allowed with any one person at any time. While the Ordinance Committee had proposed the number be two, some residents expressed a hardship with that restriction.
While 94 percent of dog owners in town have two or fewer canines, Linda Dowling has three. Her husband’s condition prevents him from helping to walk them, and she has a varied work schedule, making it hard for her to find people to walk the dogs with her on a regular basis.
“Please, please, please, that rule, for Cumberland residents, is just obnoxious,” she said. “It makes it very difficult for me. I can live with the rest of it.”
But others expressed continued concerns with the proposed rules.
“I’m a little worried that we’re doing too much legislating here … to solve problems that we could have already solved with the policy that we had in place,” said resident Daniel Kany. “… I don’t see a problem that we couldn’t solve by just educating the public. A little bit of signage would go a long way, (as would) a little bit of communication.”
Resident Jane Anders said the trails on the Greely Road side of Twin Brook need to be improved, calling them “inequitable” to those on the other end.
Resident Nick Witte said the town had gone from zero restriction, to a 90 percent proposed restriction, which had now backed off to 50 with the new proposal.
“Now, you expect me to be happy with 50 percent?,” he asked. “I’m not happy with 50 percent, for something that is not a problem.”
Even with his dog being injured there recently by another dog, Witte said, he still did not see a problem. Overall, he said, “it’s been great, it’s not broken, we shouldn’t be fixing it like this. This isn’t a fix.”
“Hopefully the ordinance is workable for everybody, and I applaud you for the job you’ve done in trying to come up with something,” resident Bill Black told the council. “But … when you have to fall back to having ordinances and rules, what it really signifies is a failure on the part of the users to properly behave. And I think we have a responsible group of users. And having a better level awareness of problems, or emerging problems, would have headed off a lot of this.”
Cumberland Town Council Chambers were packed Monday, July 14, with residents concerned about the ramifications of a contract zone on Harris Road, and dog leash laws on public lands.