Forecaster Forum: Cumberland's plans go too far for Payson heirs

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As long-time stewards of the Payson property in Cumberland, we write to clarify our position regarding the town of Cumberland’s recent purchase of a portion of the property and its plan to develop a recreational beach facility.

The Payson family has encouraged public use on the existing Stone Wall Trail for nearly 20 years. Our goal is not to prevent continued or even expanded public access, but to ensure that the town and the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust comply with the conservation restrictions imposed years ago by our grandmother, Marion Payson.

She had the good fortune to nurture this land, which had been in her family for generations. While she could have developed the 100-plus acre parcel for dozens of house lots, instead she limited development to no more than 10 homes and placed a conservation easement over the entirety of the property.

This limited development significantly reduced the potential real estate value. The conservation easement restricts what can be done on the property and protects its unique ecological and aesthetic attributes. The conservation easement was a proud part of our grandmother’s legacy and was intended to ensure the property remains in its largely natural state in perpetuity.

The town has proposed a recreational facility that includes two separate parking areas, paved roads, and beach amenities that are simply not allowed under the easement. No amount of public support or desire to expand beach access can or should trump the lawful restrictions placed on the property. Limited pedestrian use of carefully sited and maintained walking trails, consistent with the terms of the easement, will ensure that the fragile ecological elements of the property will be protected and the relatively undisturbed, open scenic views and natural landscape can be enjoyed for generations.

We cannot sit by idly and let the town and the land trust ignore the terms of the easement in order to advance a politically expedient objective of creating a public beach facility. All those who support land conservation and public access to special places should be concerned. We stand up not only for our easement, but more importantly, easements everywhere.

If the terms of our easement can be ignored and distorted in less than 20 years, what message are we sending to those considering conservation as an option for their property, or to those who have already done so? If it requires costly legal intervention to enforce the terms of an easement, then what is the value of a conservation easement as a land protection tool?

The town’s plans are destined to quickly overwhelm this property. It is the “natural and scenic beauty” of the property that we stand up to defend, now and in perpetuity, as was intended by our grandmother and as the easement requires.

William Robbins, Peter Robbins, Merrill Woodworth and Jennifer Robbins are grandchildren of Marion B. Payson. They are suing to block Cumberland’s plans for part of the property previously placed under a conservation restriction by Payson.