Divided Cape Elizabeth council OKs contested trail

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday voted 5-2 in favor of adopting the 2013 Greenbelt Plan, including a controversial trail proposed for Surfside Avenue.

Councilors Jamie Wagner and Caitlin Jordan voted against adopting the plan because of objections to the trail on Surfside Avenue, a paper street that runs along the ocean and through several backyards in the Shore Acres neighborhood.

“I believe there are unresolved legal issues regarding the town’s legal rights to build the conceptual trail,” said Wagner, who suggested the dispute be resolved by residents of Shore Acres.

Jordan echoed that sentiment. She said she disagreed with the reasons the Conservation Commission, which drafted the Greenbelt Plan, and others have made to justify the trail: that it honors historical precedent, increases trail connectivity, and creates ocean access.

“I don’t fully believe that the intent of a paper street was for recreational pedestrian use,” Jordan said. “You can look at the historical uses back in the (early) 1900s. Yes, there might not have been many vehicles, but those were roadways that people were walking down, not recreational trail paths that the pedestrians were using back then.

“As well as, I don’t find the neighborhood to be under-served,” she continued. “They have wonderful access and views at Trundy Point.”

Both councilors expressed the belief that a lawsuit against the town, from one or more residents of Shore Acres, is likely.

Wagner proposed an amendment that would have removed the Surfside Avenue trail from the 2013 Greenbelt Plan. It was seconded by Jordan, but rejected by the council by a vote of 5-2.

Each of the other councilors voiced support for the plan. Councilor Jim Walsh spoke with the most conviction, stating, “I believe very strongly that the future of this town and this decision are one and the same.”

During a public comment period, three people supported the plan, and two denounced it for its handling of paper streets and the Surfside trail in particular.

“Would you support the construction of this path across your own backyard?” said former council Chairwoman Sara Lennon, of Cranbrook Drive. “Would you wish to walk through five backyards, just feet away from porches, jungle gyms, pools and picture windows, essentially taking a stroll through private family lives? I know that I would not.”

Steve Sutton, of Pilot Point Road, said he moved to Cape Elizabeth six years ago for its trail system. He called the ocean view from Surfside Avenue remarkable.

“It’s something that I would put on par with the view from (Portland) Head Light, and I just think that everybody should be able to enjoy that kind of a view, especially if we already have a paper street,” Sutton said.

The Greenbelt Plan serves as a guiding document to direct expansion of the town’s trail system and to evaluate projects that come before the Planning Board. It has been updated several times since its creation in 1977 with new trail proposals and other expansions.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the creation of a Senior Citizens Advisory Commission to review how the town can best serve its residents over the age of 60. The commission will include up to seven people, nominated by the appointments committee and approved by the council.

The ad hoc commission, which will have no formal budget, will meet throughout the year. After it submits a written report, due no later than Dec. 31, the council will determine whether the commission will convene on a more permanent basis.

Finally, the council unanimously approved its 2014 goals, including scheduling a bond referendum for Nov. 4 on a proposal from the library building committee, taking action on the proposed ordinance for outdoor shooting ranges, and convening a committee to plan the town’s 250th anniversary celebration.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.