Cumberland council to hear pros, cons of proposed $3M beach purchase

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CUMBERLAND — The proposed $3 million town purchase of beach property off Foreside Road goes to a public hearing Monday, Oct. 6, before heading to referendum in November.

The purchase of the property, including nearly 14 acres of shoreline property and almost nine acres of forest, would accomplish a long-time goal of the town to provide public waterfront access. Funds for the purchase would be bonded over 20 years, at a cost of $240,000 a year.

But the proposal, which goes to the polls Nov. 4, has been criticized by some residents for its speed, degree of transparency, and the feasibility of recreation access at the property.

Residents of the Wildwood neighborhood, whose private beach would neighbor the public land,  have argued that the proposed use, including a parking lot near the beach, is prohibited by a conservation easement on the land.

Elizabeth Baldacci, a resident of the neighborhood, said last week it seems many people assume Wildwood is against the entire proposal, but that the neighborhood just supports the easement that it has respected for 15 years.

“There is a conservation easement … we purchased our properties knowing that that was there,” Baldacci said.

She said she is an advocate for public access, as long as it is done properly, including having the beach made available by foot, and equipped only with compost toilets, to keep the area as natural as possible.

“It’s a beautiful property … if it’s done the right way, it could be like being next to Twin Brooks,” Baldacci said of the town recreation area. “So it could be a good thing.”

An agreement to sell the more than 100-acre Payson property land to the Bateman Group development company was signed in June. If the sale is consummated, the town would buy its acreage from the developer.

The easement, which would remain in place, allows for up to 10 homes to be built on part of the property, and for a sale to the town, Town Manager Bill Shane has said.

Part of the town’s purchase would be a 2,400-foot right-of-way access road from Foreside Road to the beach, which would be improved. A 24,000-square-foot gravel parking lot, to accommodate about 40 vehicles, could be built behind the beach and would need approval from the Planning Board. Plumbing could be brought to an existing bathhouse, and the beach currently has a 220-foot pier, with a ramp and float.

The easement permits passive recreation: outdoor, non-commercial recreational activities, such as fishing and hunting, that do not disrupt the natural environment and comply with federal, state and local rules, Shane has said.

“If we can’t do what we’re proposing, which would be some parking areas for people with mobility issues, to a parking area for the public, or pocket parking areas … then the developer couldn’t develop the lots that he’s proposing to develop,” Shane said Monday. “He couldn’t widen the road to a subdivision standard, (like) he’s proposing to do.”

Shane added that “I think the interpretation honestly has been that since the parcel’s been held in this conservation easement for decades now, without any real development on the property, that truly nothing can be done. But you have to read the document.”

The town’s plan for its part of the property requires a review by the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, with criteria such as aesthetics and environmental impacts.

“If it can’t meet the straight-face test for the trust, then it can’t happen,” Shane said. “But what we’re proposing essentially would be a very low impact on the existing footprint.”

Much is still up in the air, such as the number of parking spaces, he said.

“We haven’t even put a plan together yet,” Shane said. “The (Ocean Access) committee hasn’t even met yet to talk about those issues. … The committee will listen to the (Wildwood) neighborhood, obviously, as well as other neighborhoods, and decide what’s best for the community.”

Several site walks of the 179 Foreside Road property held this month drew more than 250 people overall, Shane said.

“That’s absolutely amazing,” he noted. “No other parcel have we ever purchased have we had that much public interest in.”

The Oct. 6 meeting takes place at Town Hall at 7 p.m.

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

Sidebar Elements

A series of site walks held this month at the Payson property in Cumberland, part of which the town has proposed to purchase, drew more than 250 people, according to Town Manager Bill Shane. The purchase is largely intended to provide public beach access.

An aerial view of the Payson property beach, including its 220-foot pier. A public hearing on Cumberland’s proposed $3 million purchase of the property off Foreside Road will be held Monday, Oct. 6.

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.