Neighbors decry Scarborough Beach park plan

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SCARBOROUGH — Before a large, sometimes unruly audience, developers Monday presented their most detailed plans yet for a new beach-access park northeast of Scarborough Beach State Park.

Black Point Park, as it would be known, would feature a 370-space parking lot, walking paths through the woods and along a boardwalk to the beach, a concession stand, showers, bathrooms and picnic areas. The developer recently gained approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the park.

A portion of the 64-acre property, which is owned by the Sprague Corp., would remain agricultural. A little less than half the 1,700 feet of beachfront property would be portioned off as habitat for the endangered piping plover.

Still, landscape architect Terry DeWan told the Planning Board, the park should easily accommodate almost 900 people.

Those people would pay for admission, a similar fee to the $4.50 charged to residents and $6 to nonresidents who use Scarborough Beach State Park. Scheduling and access would also be similar to the state park.

The plan was described as a “merging of the company’s goals and the town’s,” that achieves a Comprehensive Plan goal to increase public access to the ocean.

The board took no action on the site plan application, deciding it was too big – and too contentious – to be decided in one night. However, the meeting did provide the opportunity for discussion.

DeWan laid out several steps the company took to make the plan more palatable to neighbors, including planted berms and landscaping he claimed would keep the large parking lot out of sight.

But many residents spoke against the plan. Most said the proposal is too big, while at least one said the water at that portion of the beach is too dangerous for recreation. One group has enlisted an attorney to fight against the park.

“I love this place,” said South Portland resident Paul Cunningham, who said he’d been going to that section of beach for years. “If this goes through, it’ll never be the same again. My concern is that there is not enough space. The Sprague people don’t understand the dynamic nature of beaches.”

Cunningham, and several others, said the developer is overly optimistic about the beach area at high tide. He said that at many high tides, beach width drops to zero, not the 25 to 50 feet described by DeWan.  

“At high tide, people move their blankets up on the dunes,” said Vaughan Pratt, a resident of Prout’s Neck. “There’s not enough space.”

Many of the complaints were similar: There isn’t as much beach as the proposal suggests, and thus there couldn’t possibly be a need for such a large parking lot. Some residents said the plan to protect plover habitat couldn’t work because people would inevitably spread to those portions of the beach. 

The crowd became restless at several points, upset at the five-minute time limit imposed on each individual. Responding to shouts from the crowd, Planning Board Chairman Allen Paul had to ask members of the crowd to wait their turns before addressing the board. 

One Kirkwood Circle resident, Chris Johnson, said the park is a bad idea because the ocean is too dangerous to encourage swimming or recreational use. He said that once, years ago, he nearly drowned in a riptide.

“Anyone who regularly goes there knows, you approach that section of beach with extreme caution,” he said. “Riptides abound. Undercurrents are near constant.”

Board members were mostly quiet as they listened to comments. Paul reviewed the residents concerns and worked with the developer to establish a system for reviewing the massive project that would span several meetings.

“Until we get deeper into the review process, it’s going to be hard to know what the issues of concern are,” he said. 

Planning Board members have scheduled a tentative site walk for 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 3. The walk is public, and residents were advised to call the board that morning to confirm. 

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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