Cumberland narrowly OKs beach purchase, Harris Road zoning

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CUMBERLAND — Voters on Tuesday narrowly supported the town’s $3 million purchase of beach property off Foreside Road.

They also upheld a contract zone agreement that will make Harris Road a through street to Route 9.

According to unofficial results, the Payson property question passed, 2,372 to 2,126. The attempt to repeal the Harris Road change was defeated, 2,344 to 2,044.

Supporters have said the purchase, which comprises nearly 25 acres of land at 179 Foreside Road – including 2,200 feet of shore front and a 200-foot pier – would accomplish a long-time town goal to provide public waterfront access. Funds for the acquisition would be bonded over 20 years, at a cost of $240,000 a year.

Opponents – including residents of the adjoining Wildwood neighborhood, whose private beach will abut the public land – argue that the beach is worth far less than the purchase price, that other areas of shoreline access can be found with more potential, and that the speed and degree of transparency of the process, as well as the feasibility of recreation access at the property, are wanting.

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

A conservation easement on the property would remain in place. It allows 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.

Wildwood resident Tom Hyndman said Tuesday night that the results were “closer than I would have expected,” adding that “it’s a disappointment, and I think that the support for the referendum was pushed hard by the developer, and I think he got his wish, and now we’ll just have to make sure that the (Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust) remains responsible and manages the property appropriately.”

In an email Tuesday night, Shane he was happy the referendum passed. “Four decades of Comprehensive Plans all supporting Ocean Access has now finally come to a reality,” he said. “There were many people on both sides of this issue that put a tremendous amount of time and effort into this referendum.”

He noted that the town’s new Ocean Access Committee must now submit its “recommendations to the Town Council for a facility use plan that will protect and preserve this property and allow Ocean Access to all our residents.”

Harris Road

The Harris Road referendum upholds the Town Council’s unanimous July 14 approval of a contract zone agreement with developer Justin Fletcher.

Fletcher has planned to split his 3 Longwoods Road (Route 9) lot in exchange for deeding the town an acre of land for an approximately 500-foot connection of Harris Road to Route 9.

He is allowed to build a duplex and a single-family home on the land. Density standards previously allowed only the single-family home or a duplex on the property.

Harris Road residents who have purchased an easement use an existing private connection. That connection will be opened to the public and upgraded to town subdivision standards with the town taking possession.

The Planning Board unanimously recommended passage in June. No work on the road is planned until at least next summer, Shane has said.

Concerns about the road connection involve speed and safety, the condition of Harris Road, and a potential increase in traffic.

A petition to repeal the agreement required 599 certified signatures, or 10 percent of the number of registered town voters. The town stopped counting signatures after certifying 614 of them, according to Town Clerk Tammy O’Donnell; petitioners claim they netted more than 700.

The connection of Harris Road to Route 9 is consistent with Cumberland’s Comprehensive Plan, according to Shane.

Councilor Shirley Storey-King has said the connection will improve connectivity, and one of the Comprehensive Plan’s goals is to reduce the number of dead-end roads.

A rough extension of Harris Road through to Route 9 in Falmouth was dissolved by Falmouth in the 1990s, at a time when towns were returning “paper streets” – roads on maps that do not officially exist – to abutting landowners, Shane said Oct. 8 in a public forum on the referendum.

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

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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.