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Cape Elizabeth prepares for pushback from property owners over trail plan

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Cape Elizabeth prepares for pushback from property owners over trail plan

CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday will formerly acknowledge the Conservation Commission's final draft of the 2013 Greenbelt Plan, a prospectus for the trail network that is popular with joggers and cyclists, while raising the ire of some landowners and farmers.

The council meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at Town Hall. The Conservation Commission will hold its own meeting the following night at 7 p.m. on the second floor of Town Hall.

The Greenbelt Plan, which is updated every seven years, serves as a guidance document to direct expansion of the trail system and evaluate projects that come before the Planning Board.

"We've done our job, we've worked hard on it," Town Planner Maureen O'Meara said. "Then it's the council's document to do with as they see fit."

After reviewing the plan, the Town Council will likely schedule a site visit to review trails that have generated a lot of attention, Councilor David Sherman said. Foremost among those is a proposed trail that would run through the Shore Acres neighborhood and over a paper street known as Surfside Avenue.

"That paper street runs between some homes and the ocean," Sherman said. "If you own one of those homes, the trail would be running in front of your view of the ocean, more or less.

"As you can imagine, those homeowners are not in favor of having the Greenbelt trail run through their backyards. The council has received a lot of email traffic about that particular section, so we'll want to take a look."

Eventually, the council will probably schedule a public hearing, Sherman said. Then it would vote on whether to adopt the Greenbelt plan, in part or in full.

The 2013 draft features a new set of goals related to the Greenbelt's expansion and connectivity, its maintenance and construction, and the education of the public about the project.

"This is the most expansive section" of the document, O'Meara said. "It puts in writing some of the criteria that we've been using internally over the years to make decisions about Greenbelt trails and open space."

While the Conservation Commission has made an effort to define the overarching mission of the project, public interest during the planning phases – at public forums in May and June, for example – has centered on individual trails.

The document proposes 23 new trail connections and expansions, fewer than previously discussed. Penny Jordan, owner of Jordan's Farm, petitioned the commission to abandon a proposed trail that would have run near her farm's irrigation pond, and she was glad it was left out of the final draft.

But she was upset that took as long as it did.

"What created a really contentious situation was that the conversation continued after landowners asked that their property not be considered in any proposed trails," Jordan said. "Any request that a citizen and a taxpayer makes relative to their property, as long as it's not counter to zoning ordinances and isn't encumbering neighbors in some way, should be listened to. That's what landowner rights are all about."

Jordan said sometimes the general public mistakenly views open farm land as accessible space, and the Greenbelt Plan could reinforce that notion. She said people walking across farmland, however well-meaning, can disturb crops, livestock and equipment, or injure themselves, leaving farmers liable.

"A farm is a place of business," Jordan said. "I would not come cruising through your office and sit down and have a picnic. My farm is my office and every part of it is a tool for me to accomplish what I do, which is producing food."

The Conservation Commission is aware of such objections. A passage of the plan under the heading "Opportunities/voluntary expansion" states:

"Sometimes, the town initiates contact with a property owner regarding public access rights. If the property owner is not interested in donating or selling public access rights, no further action by the town is taken. The Conservation Commission only works with willing property owners. No eminent domain action has ever been used by the town to obtain land for open space."

Not everyone sees it that way. Councilor Caitlin Jordan (Penny's cousin), whose parents owns Alewive's Brook Farm, said the commission ignored her family's protests and left in the plan a proposed trail that runs through the farm.

"We would like it to be taken off, we asked that it be taken off at the meetings," Jordan said. "We don't have any intention of letting people walk across the farm. Our request, and it comes through the Farm Alliance, is going to be that it be removed. Putting trails across farms – that shouldn't occur.

"The Greenbelt trail, as it exists now, is a positive thing for the community," she said. "People have access to walk all over town, connecting one end to the other. It gets people outdoors. It's great. I'm just not sure we need to be adding some of the trails they've suggested."

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