Cumberland road ballot question: Traffic flow versus quality of life

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CUMBERLAND — A contract zone that some Harris Road residents believe will disrupt their dead-end street goes to voters Nov. 4.

The referendum, if approved, would uphold the Town Council’s unanimous July 14 approval of a contract zone agreement with developer Justin Fletcher.

Fletcher would 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 would be 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 if the town takes possession.

The Planning Board unanimously recommended passage in June. No work on the road is planned until at least next summer, Town Manager Bill 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.

“We were left then with truly a dead-end road,” he said, noting that Harris Road is the longest dead-end street in Cumberland.

About 118 properties in the area of Tuttle Road would benefit from the 8,500-foot Harris Road connection from Longwoods Road, saving drives several minutes of travel time, Shane said.

Speeding vehicles along the connection are a concern, Shane admitted, adding that speed tables and enforcement of the speed limit could address that issue. He pointed out that 75 properties are on or along Harris Road, and that traffic studies have determined that most motorists there drive at or close to the 35 mph speed limit.

The project is slated to cost $84,500, including $26,000 for paving, $40,000 for excavation and gravel, $5,000 for cleanup and $13,500 for contingency. The work will likely not be added to town expenditures, Shane noted, but would instead replace an existing project in Cumberland’s $890,000 road program.

The impact on the tax rate would be 6.8 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, which amounts to $23.80 for a home valued at $350,000.

Shane said the project would create “a safe, reliable and interconnected road network that benefits the entire community.”

But several Harris Road residents are not quite so sure about that.

Chris Lindsay noted that the private Harris Road entrance on Longwoods Road is already available in case of emergency.

Lindsay said the 2009 Comprehensive Plan was largely based on findings from a resident survey done three years earlier. Of the 2,705 surveys mailed, 865 (32 percent) were returned, and 47 percent supported the connection of Longwoods and Tuttle roads via Harris Road. Of those, she said, 26 percent strongly supported the measure, while 21 percent somewhat supported it.

“Approving the contract zone to connect Route 9 to Harris Road is not aligned with the Comprehensive Plan, especially when safety is involved,” Lindsay said, noting the plan’s goals also include safe roads and promotion of pedestrian and bicycle travel.

“Currently, Harris Road is well used by pedestrians, bikes and sports teams, to name a few,” Lindsay said, and they will have to mix with heavier traffic if the connection becomes public.

“Harris Road is narrow, with no sidewalks or paved shoulders,” she said. “Harris Road residents take great care with their speed and are familiar with the difficult sight-lines, to avoid accidents.”

Bob Vail of Cumberland Center said the project presents an opportunity “to correct a wrong that the town of Falmouth did to us 20 years ago. … Harris Road (had) always been a through-road … when the state asked communities to deal with paper streets, this was not what they had intended.”

He said the arguments about traffic and use of the road are not strong, and that “use of that road will be minimal” if the connection is built.

Adam Lee, another Harris Road resident, questioned whether the project expense is the best use of money. He suggested that the funds could go instead toward schools, the fire station, or emergency services.

“This is a neighborhood,” Lee said. “Cumberland is full of neighborhoods, and full of people who move there because of the nature of whatever neighborhood they move to. Major changes like this disrupt the very nature and fabric of the town.”

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

Sidebar Elements

A chain runs along this view of Harris Road toward Longwoods Road (Route 9), where only Harris Road residents who have purchased an easement are allowed entrance. The connection will be made public and upgraded to town subdivision standards if the town takes possession through a contract zone that goes to voters Nov. 4.

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.