Report summarizes forums on Cape Elizabeth paper streets

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council on Monday accepted a draft report from two public forums about paper streets on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place.

The council on March 12 also adopted a vision statement for Fort Williams Park.

The forums, led by Craig Freshley of Good Group Decisions, were held Feb. 1 and 3 to discuss the town’s three options for action on paper streets: maintain, accept, or vacate. 

Last November, rather than permanently accept or vacate rights to paper streets on Lighthouse Point Road, Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place, the council opted to maintain the rights, which were extended for 20 years on Oct. 5, 2016. The streets are laid out in the town’s subdivision plan, but were never developed or completed.

Councilors then directed Town Manager Matt Sturgis to hire a facilitator to provide the council with a report.

Just days before the forums, two lawsuits were filed by residents of Pilot Point Road, arguing that the town had taken too long to take action on the streets and therefore, the town’s rights to the paper street on Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place have lapsed. 

The draft report gave an overview of the forums agenda, outlined themes, and brainstormed ideas, and included comments from those who attended. 

Residents wishing the council would maintain the town’s rights said it should be done in the interest of harmony and a sense of community. Those in favor of the town accepting the streets listed reasons such as setting a precedent to act in the best interest of all Cape Elizabeth residents and having the right to walk the path, which they called a town asset, without being harassed.

On the other hand, those in favor of vacating said so with regard to safety and privacy, property values, and concerns that the town would not be able to maintain the path. 

During Monday’s meeting, resident Jim Morra, of 5 Waumbeck Road, said he tallied those in attendance at the forums and found 55 residents wanted Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place accepted, five would like the rights maintained, and nine would like them vacated.

Morra noted a petition signed by residents in favor of the town permanently accepting the municipality’s rights to the paper street has been signed by 1,220 people since it began circulating last summer. 

However, a comment made during the Feb. 1 forum and noted in the report stated that several people in favor of the town “vacating” did not attend the forums because they are involved in ongoing litigation with the town and that “low numbers for the vacate option shouldn’t be taken as low interest.” 

Sturgis said the council is focusing on the two lawsuits, which, he added, are still in the “information-gathering stage” and doesn’t have immediate plans to take up a discussion on paper streets during any upcoming meetings. 

“They may also refer it to a workshop in the future, most likely post budget,” Sturgis said March 13. “But that is pure speculation on my part.”

Park vision

The council unanimously adopted a vision statement that they intend to use to guide Fort Williams Park’s future uses and policies, including parking fees and commercial tour bus access.

The statement was drafted during a March 5 council workshop after councilors met with members of the Fort Williams Park Committee in February.  

One of the council’s goals for 2018 is to work with the park committee to review the mission, vision and financial sustainability of Fort Williams Park.

The vision statement reads: “The town’s vision for Fort Williams Park is to provide a safe, high-quality space for Cape Elizabeth citizens and visitors to enjoy. We will protect and maintain access to the park’s historic elements and natural beauty for this and all future generations, and optimize the town’s stewardship by managing the park through financially and ecologically sustainable practices.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

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