Debate continues over Cape Elizabeth paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — After backtracking on action taken in July to begin vacating – against the recommendation of the Conservation Committee – three paper streets, town councilors Wednesday revisited a feasibility study of the streets.

In October 2016, the committee was told to review the town’s 2013 Greenbelt Plan, adopted in January 2014, as it relates to the potential trails along the paper streets of Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place.

The committee was also asked to consider potential future trail development along the paper street at Lighthouse Point Road. Members were asked to update the council in six months, but in March the town extended the deadline to June 30.

The committee suggested the council maintain the rights to both paper streets, but affirmed that it had no plans to construct any trails. The study found that there are significant “technical or logistical barriers” to adding the footpath at either location.

Town engineer Stephen Harding of Sebago Technics presented separate reports, prepared in May for the Conservation Committee, to councilors and residents Wednesday.

The paper street segment of Surfside Avenue is approximately 1,500 feet and 50 feet wide and widens at its northeasterly end. The paper street part of Atlantic Place is approximately 550 feet and is 20 feet wide. The study suggested that, depending on its eventual alignment, the path could be roughly 2,050 feet.

On Lighthouse Point Road, the paper street segment is approximately 192 feet and has a width of 40 feet. Approximately, 85 feet of the paper street segment consists of a paved roadway used to access two private lots at the end of the road. The remaining approximately 107 feet length of the paper street is covered by a landscaped garden on the northerly side and a lawn on its southerly side.

The street would link Lighthouse Point Road to government-owned land utilized by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Lighthouse Point Road

Committee Chairman Jim Tasse said Wednesday that the panel would recommend a trail on Lighthouse Point Road to use as an access point should the Coast Guard ever choose to sell the land.

“What we’re really trying to impress on the town is not to give away an access point that they’ll never get back,” Tasse said Wednesday. “The conservative approach is the best approach.”

Council Chairman James Garvin suggested asking the Coast Guard if  it has any plans to give up the property.

Councilor Sara Lennon asked the Conservation Committee members if they had any sense that a path on Lighthouse Point Road was something that was “supported by a majority of Cape citizens.”

“The majority of Cape citizens have consistently expressed a lot of appreciation for the existence of a Greenbelt network in town,” Tasse said.

Residents expressed concern that adding a paper street would only contribute to traffic and parking issues they already have in their neighborhoods, caused by people visiting Two Lights State Park.

Susan Johnston, of Lighthouse Point Road, said that in the past six years, she has noticed a “remarkable” increase in traffic on her street.

“We’re all worried about the future,” Johnston said. “Our entire neighborhood is in total agreement (that a trail should not be built).”

Kelly McDonald, of Lighthouse Point Road, said she was at “wit’s end,” echoing Johnston’s remark that the entire neighborhood was in agreement.

“It is disingenuous for the Conservation Committee to give you a report and say that they had some neighborhood interest (in eventually developing a paper street),” McDonald said. “The issue here is public safety (not feasibility).”

Still, some felt that the problem should not be solved by forfeiting the town’s rights to the paper streets.

Mike Thorne, of Highview Road, said the issue was with traffic control and parking, not with public access. He urged the council to maintain their rights to the paper streets.

Jim Morra, of Waumbek Road, agreed.

“Keep the access … fix the traffic problem,” he said.

Councilor Caitlin Jordan asked if the Conservation Committee had considered a public access point to the Coast Guard’s land from Dyer Road.

Jim Tasse replied that the committee was only asked to study the feasibility of a path on Lighthouse Point Road, but at a glance, said an access point from Dyer Road would be more difficult to develop due to rough terrain.

Surfside Avenue, Atlantic Place

When asked on Wednesday why the Conservation Committee is not opting to construct a path on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place, Tasse said the committee has other priorities.

“We would be happy to consider developing a trail on Surfside (Avenue) as soon as it was deemed appropriate,” Tasse said.

In another extended public comment period, residents of the 150-home neighborhood shared why they felt the town’s rights to a paper street on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place should be vacated or maintained.

The main opposition was between those whose land directly abuts the paper street and others in the Shore Acres neighborhood who aren’t abutters, but have deeded or implied rights to walk it.

Andrea Adams, of Surfside Avenue, urged the town to vacate the paper street. She said the Ocean View Association, which has seven members who live along the gravel portion of Surfside Avenue and on Algonquin Road extension, purchased the land which the paper street lies on many years ago and spends thousands of dollars a year maintaining that land.

“Will the town maintain the land (if a path is developed?),” she asked.

Deborah Murphy, of Pilot Point Road and a member of the Shore Acres Improvement Association, claimed the Ocean View Association does not maintain the gravel portion of the street, but the Shore Acres Improvement Association does.

“I do agree that these are very valuable town assets,” Murphy said. “Accept these paper streets, then we can work at a solution that works for everyone.”

On Aug. 11, a petition signed by 452 Cape Elizabeth residents was given to the council “demand(ing) that (it) not vote to vacate the paper streets on Surfside Avenue, Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road.”

On Wednesday night, Sheila Mayberry, of Trundy Road and a member of the SAIA and Save Our Shoreline Coalition, said they would be happy to present the council with another petition if needed.

Andy Summer, of Pilot Point Road, asked the council and Conservation Committee what might change in a recommendation to maintain the town’s rights, but not develop a trail, putting emphasis on “but.”

“Are we to expect that we’ll be talking about this again in a year or two years from now?” he said.

The council has three options: to permanently accept the paper streets, extend the town’s rights for another – and final – 20 years, or vacate the streets.

Garvin said he was not sure when action on paper streets will be added to a meeting agenda.

“There are clearly still a lot of sensitivities around this matter and in spite of all the time we put in, I feel like now is not the time to pull the plug and say ‘We’re done,'” he said.

Councilors Penelope Jordan, Caitlin Jordan and Lennon said they needed more information and recommendations about issues such as the town’s potential liability and the OVA’s rights to the land on which the paper street lies.

“I’ve got so many different pieces of information coming at me, it’s difficult to sort through,” Penelope Jordan said.

Councilors Katharine Ray and Jessica Sullivan said the council had all the information needed to make an informed decision, and both stated they would not support forfeiting rights to town assets.

“We have been talking about this for four years,” Sullivan said.

What the council did seem to agree on, is that the issue should be put to rest soon.

“I can understand that there are questions that some people still have … but at the end of the day, a decision has to be made by the council,” Ray said. “Whatever that decision is, we are not going to make everybody happy. … I would suggest we don’t drag this out any longer than we have to. … When the decision’s made, the world doesn’t come to an end, the sun still comes up in the morning.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Town councilors are reconsidering the Conservation Committee’s July recommendation to maintain their rights to paper streets on Surfside Avenue, Atlantic Place, and Lighthouse Point Road.

Cape Elizabeth residents queue up during an extended public comment period Wednesday to provide the council and Conservation Committee with questions, concerns, and recommendations regarding the development of paper streets.

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