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Village green proposal gains traction in Cape Elizabeth

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Village green proposal gains traction in Cape Elizabeth

CAPE ELIZABETH — A concept plan for a village green next to Town Hall was the focus Monday at a Town Center Planning Committee meeting.

The 4.5-acre lot sits between Town Hall and the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust office. In February, owner Peter Haffenreffer presented to the committee a plan that includes four commercial buildings, parking and a one-acre village green facing Route 77.

The green would include a lawn dotted with a gazebo, pedestrian pathways, benches, a sunken rain garden and stormwater pond, and ornamental fencing and plantings.

A one-story building, near to Route 77, would house a cafe and retail space. The three others, located behind the village green, would house office space on the first floor and residential apartments on the second floor.

The plan includes parking for both the green and the commercial and residential buildings.

Complicating matters is a 3,500-square-foot wetland in the middle of the lot.

Cape Elizabeth is one of only a few towns in the state with its own wetland regulations. The wetland on the lot south of Town Hall falls into the category of Resource Protection 2, meaning it's less fragile or significant – and easier, from a zoning perspective, to build on – than Resource Protection 1 wetlands, which are protected from construction by a 250-foot buffer zone.

An initial request by Haffenreffer to fill in the wetland was denied by the Planning Board. But at Monday's meeting, Town Planner Maureen O'Meara said the concept-level plan, as currently outlined, would probably be approved under the town's zoning ordinance.

The committee has also proposed an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would make it easier to build on and around RP2 wetlands in the town center in instances that would lead to substantial public benefit – like, for example, the creation of a village green.

The concept of a village green has been raised before by the Town Center Planning Committee, an ad hoc group that was created in February 2013 and charged with updating the 1993 town center plan.

One of the goals outlined in the committee's draft plan is to "create and encourage community gathering places," including a "town green." The plan recommends that the town "consider creating a town green or common open space within the town center." The draft plan then outlines Haffenreffer's concept plan, suggesting that that wetland could be incorporated into a water element on the village green.

"While the property can be developed without a village green, the green adds to the desirability of the potential development and advances town goals," the draft plan reads.

In a survey conducted last fall by the Town Center Planning Committee, 73 percent of respondents said the town should "establish an outdoor public gathering place, such as a Town Green, to promote visual identity and to establish a more aesthetically appealing Town Center."

But several residents at Monday's meeting weren't sold on the idea.

Suzanne McGinn, of Shore Road, said the survey's sample size of 82 respondents was insignificant. She suggested the committee was misconstruing a preference for the preservation of open space as a desire for a landscaped town green.

"I think peoples’ perception of green space, of open space, can be interpreted in different ways," she said.

Sara Lennon, of Cranbrook Drive, said the Cumberland Farms property at Route 77 and Scott Dyer Road would make for a better location for a village green than Haffenreffer's lot.

The Cumberland Farms lot has been assessed at $439,000, O'Meara said.

Town Councilors Jamie Wagner and David Sherman, who sit on the Town Center Planning Committee, expressed the same sentiment: Why should the town spend money on a village green when someone's prepared to give it away for free?

The committee will meet next on April 14. It plans to sign off on the town center plan at its following meeting on May 19.

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