Cumberland proposes $3M purchase for public beach
CUMBERLAND — A potential $3 million purchase by the town of about 11 acres of shoreline property and nearly 9 acres of forest will be discussed Monday, July 28, at a Town Council public hearing.
The purchase of part of the Payson property off Foreside Road would satisfy a long-time goal of the town to provide public waterfront access.
But members of the abutting Wildwood neighborhood, whose private beach would neighbor the public land, believe the proposed use is prohibited by a conservation easement on the property.
If the council votes to buy the land, a referendum on the purchase would be held in November. Funds for the purchase would be bonded over 20 years, at a cost of $240,000 a year.
The more than 100-acre Payson property went on the market several weeks ago. An agreement to sell the land to the Bateman Group development company was signed last month, Town Manager Bill Shane said last week.
If the sale is consummated, the town would buy its acreage from the developer. The easement, which would remain in place, allows for up to 10 homes to be constructed on part of the property, and for a sale to the town, the manager explained.
"We have very limited waterfront access, and this would be part of decades of trying to achieve that," Shane said.
He noted some people believe public access conflicts with a conservation easement, but said "our town attorney does not believe that's the case. He believes that public access is permissible."
Part of the town's acquisition would be a 2,400-foot right-of-way access road from Foreside Road to the beach, which would be improved. A 300-foot by 80-foot gravel parking lot, to accommodate 60 vehicles, would be built behind the beach and have to be approved by the Planning Board. Plumbing could be brought to an existing bathhouse, and the beach currently has a 220-foot pier, with a ramp and float.
In a presentation Monday, Shane said the easement allows passive recreation: outdoor, non-commercial recreational activities, such as fishing and hunting, that do not disrupt the natural environment and comply with federal, state and local rules.
But in a July 9 letter to Shane, provided by the town, Wildwood Association President Paul Evans argued that development of a public beach, creating vehicle access from Foreside Road to the beach through the Payson estate, and developing facilities like public restrooms and a parking lot "is directly contrary to the clear intent of Marion Brown Payson's Conservation Easement and the terms of the easement itself."
Evans said construction of buildings is prohibited in the easement, "as is excavation and damage to vegetation which would undoubtedly occur by the construction or improvement of an access road and parking lot."
He added that "the Association, in conjunction with local, state and national land conservation organizations, intends to vigorously oppose any use of the Payson Estate that would violate the Conservation Easement."
Uses on the property must be approved by the Chebeague & Cumberland Land Trust, which is the steward of the easement, Shane said. A citizens advisory committee would likely be formed to establish a facility use policy.
"It probably is the last available property that I would foresee being looked at as some type of public access ... to the waterfront," Shane said.
The nearly nine acres of forest at the southwestern portion of the property, on Foreside Road, cannot be built on, Shane said. Trails could be established there, but would have to be approved by the land trust.
The council did not take public comment on the matter Monday. Councilors plan to meet with their attorney prior to the July 28 public hearing, and hope to have a proposed purchase and sale agreement in hand by then, Shane said.