Goddard Mansion in Cape Elizabeth could face partial demolition; Shore Road Pathway discussion begins

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council began its discussion Monday of the proposed Shore Road Pathway, and discussed the future of Goddard Mansion at Fort Williams.

The Fort Williams Advisory Commission has recommended a long-term goal of tearing down most of what’s left of the aging stone structure.

The Shore Road Pathway workshop discussion, which lasted nearly an hour, was dominated by a presentation from the committee charged with determining its feasibility. Committee Chairman Paul Thelin discussed the process, which began in December 2007, focusing on what he called a “very concerted effort to involve the public” throughout the last 18 months.

The pathway, which would run for about two miles from the old Fort Williams entrance to the town center, mostly on the west side of the road, with two street crossings, has generated some opposition from residents concerned about altering the character of the scenic road. It has received support from those interested in the bike and pedestrian safety improvements offered by such a path, and been a hot-button issue for many worried about the $864,000 price tag determined by the committee.

The path’s construction would require the removal of 27 trees if a 3-foot-wide esplanade between the path and the road is maintained in all but two small sections. The original plan, which did not include that esplanade throughout, called for only 11 trees to be removed.

Town Planner Maureen O’Meara said that according to the committee’s calculations, 27 trees is less than 10 percent of trees along the proposed pathway, and that there’s “definitely opportunity” to include landscaping and plantings within the esplanade to further separate the path from the street.

Regarding the project’s cost, O’Meara also said she’s “confident that the project would ring a lot of bells” for groups offering grants. Because it could be considered a route to school, would improve basic pedestrian and biker safety, and has scenic qualities, it fits criteria for a handful of local grant opportunities, she said. Some residents have also suggested private fundraising options, she added.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said he plans to assemble several different options for the Town Council to consider in a meeting later this summer. Those options could include phased development or rejecting the plan altogether. McGovern said he will also identify potential funding sources to give the council an idea about what is available and feasible.

Goddard Mansion

The Fort Williams Advisory Commission presented a report on Goddard Mansion that has a long-term goal of tearing down the Fort Williams landmark, though in the short-term its hopes simply to erect a fence to protect visitors from the deteriorating ruins. Funding for the fence would come from the commission’s capital fund.

The commission does not wish to see the mansion disappear altogether; its report includes a long-term plan to bring the walls down to seating level, maintaining the front entrance and putting interpretive signs around the area to give visitors a sense of what used to be there. Some councilors liked the idea, suggesting that the mansion could become a venue for wedding receptions or host a garden of some kind.

Members of the council and commission suggested that if the opportunity comes along to keep the mansion standing, they’d take it. By publicizing their long-term aim of deconstructing the landmark, some said they hope the plan might get the attention of private fundraisers interested in saving it.

Just stabilizing the existing walls comes with a pricetag of $600,000, the committee reported, and that cost does not include maintenance. 

In lieu of funding, the first phase of erecting a fence around the ruins seemed generally accepted as a good option until money is available. “Short of a deep pocket and a check, I think (the commission’s) recommendation is the right one,” Councilor David Backer said.

But not everyone agreed. Several residents of Surf Road, which abuts the mansion to the north of the park, attended the workshop. Though public comment was not allowed Monday, Surf Road resident Nancy Bolduc said Wednesday that she and her neighbors plan to begin voicing their opposition to the plan as soon as they can get organized.

She said there are enough people who want to see the mansion remain standing that she finds it hard to accept that its fate might fall into the hands of just a half-dozen people – especially since she has “a bad feeling that (Goddard Mansion) doesn’t have much meaning to the people making decisions.”

“We appreciate the ruin as a ruin,” she said, and don’t want to see it destroyed or become a venue of any kind. She said she is also disappointed by the commission’s conclusion that the mansion has no historical relevance making it worth saving. “It’s part of our history,” she said, “and our children and grandchildren who have a history with it.”

If it takes raising money to save the mansion, Bolduc said she hopes the group will accept the challenge. But until then, they want to make residents aware of the council’s discussion around tearing down a town landmark in the hope that it will stir up more residents interested in saving it.

Recommendations about both Goddard Mansion and the Shore Road Pathway are expected to be heard by the Town Council at its July 13 meeting. Council meetings begin a 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall and are also televised.

Sarah Trent can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 108 or strent@theforecaster.net.