Cumberland council rejects removal of stop sign, OKs Orchard Road work

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday voted 5-1 to keep a stop sign at the intersection of Blanchard and Skillin roads, as urged by several residents from that part of town.

The panel also unanimously approved spending up to $7,000 to help with improvements to part of Orchard Road.

The T intersection at Blanchard and Skillin roads has two stop signs – one for traffic heading southeast on Blanchard, and one for motorists driving northeast on Skillin. Drivers coming up Blanchard Road from Main Street have a free left-hand turn onto Skillin Road, while those traveling down Blanchard from Orchard Road are met with a stop sign.

Gorrill Palmer engineering, which conducted a traffic study of the intersection, suggested the sign on Blanchard Road could be removed. But people who live near the intersection expressed hope at a Jan. 28 meeting that the sign would stay put, chiefly as a traffic-calming measure, in part because of a day care at the intersection.

“My only real concern is the speed,” Taylor Powell of Blanchard Road told the council. “I am already scared to cross the street to get my mail.”

Removing the stop sign could allow motorists to travel at greater speeds, she said, adding “It’s not broken, so why are we trying to fix it?”

Bruce Sherwin, whose wife Brenda runs the day-care center, questioned whether the Police Department has been consulted. Town Manager Bill Shane said the department does not support removing the sign.

Chris Neagle, an Orchard Road resident and former Planning Board member, last year suggested the town explore removing the sign.

“Your engineers have identified a non-conforming condition,” he said. “Your engineers have observed a traffic hesitation caused by this non-conforming condition.”

According to Gorrill Palmer’s intersection evaluation report last November, “There does not appear to be a reasonable explanation as to why the Blanchard Road eastbound approach is currently stop-controlled.

“There were some observations that indicated that some drivers approaching eastbound on Blanchard Road presumably thought the opposite direction of Blanchard Road also stopped,” the report said, “because they pulled out in front of left-turning vehicles onto Skillin Road.

“We also witnessed left-turning vehicles from Blanchard Road hesitating when they took a left onto Skillin Road when another vehicle approached in the opposite direction, since the convention would be to yield the right of way.”

“We sit there like a Mexican standoff,” Neagle said. “It’s a bad thing.”

Councilor Ron Copp joined those opposed to the sign’s removal. “I don’t see any benefit,” he said. “I can only see possibly a tragedy happen if the stop sign’s removed.”

Councilor Bill Stiles was the only dissenter and Councilor Mike Edes was absent.

“I just like consistent travel laws; the rules of the road should be the same all over,” Stiles said Tuesday morning, referring to the non-conforming nature of the intersection.

Orchard Road work

Earlier in the meeting, the councilors unanimously supported spending up to $7,000 to help pay for improvements to part of Orchard Road.

Cars line the road by Orchard Hill Apple Orchard during the operation’s peak weeks, and inadequate shoulders force drivers to park their vehicles partially in the road. Traffic is essentially reduced to one lane, causing customers to walk in the road to reach the orchard, which creates a safety hazard, Shane said in January.

Although the town worked with orchard owner Bob Pierce a few years ago to expand the shoulders for about 200 feet, the operation’s popularity at peak season has created a parking issue for nearly 700 feet along the road, Shane said.

Drainage and gravel is to be installed along the shoulder of the east side of Orchard Road, with the town providing a 6-inch under drain, as well as stone and gravel for 700 feet of improvements, the manager said Monday.

In turn, Pierce would remove trees and create a 600-foot-long parking area on the west side of the road. A 4-foot shoulder would be developed to facilitate perpendicular parking. Pierce would do the labor and use his equipment.

Pierce is also going to create a roped-off area along the orchard, encouraging customers to walk on the property and not the road.

The town this summer may discuss amending its traffic ordinance to ban parking during apple-picking season on the remaining undeveloped areas. Parking would be temporarily prohibited on both sides of the road, north and south of the orchard.

The cost to the town for its part of the project – to be done on town property and in the town’s right of way – would be nearly $15,000, and be taken from road improvement reserves, Shane initially said at Monday’s meeting.

That includes $4,200 for under drain piping, $5,000 for gravel, about $1,300 toward stone for pipe bedding, and $1,800 for signage, as well as nearly $2,500 for contingency.

With Councilor Tom Gruber saying he did not see the project costing as much as $15,000, Shane responded that the signs would likely be closer to $500, and that while the under drain, stone bedding material and the signs would be out-of-pocket costs, the gravel could be removed from those expenses, “if you approve the use of town gravel to be delivered to the site, and the labor to do that.”

Gruber noted Tuesday that since surplus gravel would be used, it would not be an extra expense for the town.

The reduction decreased the town’s expenses to about $6,000. After discussion concluded, Gruber motioned for $7,000 to be budgeted, including money for contingencies.

Pierce’s expenses for the project would amount to $24,500, according to Shane.

Chris Clark of Orchard Road, the only member of the public to comment on the matter, said while he supports the orchard, “I feel that the signage on the road is already excessive. When you get to the end of the road, where it meets Blanchard Road, there are already three stop signs, and a fourth sign that tells you there’s going to be a stop sign.”

He was opposed to adding several “No Parking” signs, asking that temporary seasonal signs be used instead.

While he understood the parking issue, Stiles said he needed “an explanation of why we aren’t doing this just to help a particular business in town. … I just need an explanation of why we aren’t favoring one business over another section of town.”

“We’re all aware of the fact that we’ve been encouraging agricultural uses in the Comprehensive Plan for some time now, and agricultural uses are few and far between in the town,” Councilor George Turner replied.

Councilor Peter Bingham noted the town has worked with other agricultural operations in Cumberland at other times, adding that “there is some precedent for doing it.”

Councilor Shirley Storey-King pointed out that the improvements are not on private land, and they are geared toward public safety.

“It’s a safety issue initiated by our police chief, not by the orchard itself,” she added.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The Cumberland Town Council voted 5-1 Monday to leave a stop sign at the intersection of Blanchard and Skillin roads.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.