Scarborough faces another fight over Pine Point access

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SCARBOROUGH — Pine Point residents are again rallying to keep a traditional public access beach path from falling into private hands.

This time, the residents are lining up against a proposal to discontinue a town-owned right of way, Avenue 2, at the request of a property owner who wants to rebuild a larger beach-side home, but can’t do it within the current width of his lot.

The basic message from the neighbors?

“All town rights of way should be preserved forever,” according to an email blast sent to the Town Council and others last weekend by members of the Association of Residents in Pine Point.

The group also argued that these rights of way “were established over a century ago and have been in control of the town since before the dense development of the area (and) they are even more important now.”

Overall, the association believes it “should be the policy of this town to hold all publicly controlled property in perpetuity,” particularly Avenue 2, which is a 50-foot right of way residents describe as a “heavily used beach access point.”

The dispute follows a request by the Gendron family, which recently purchased an aging A-frame home at 37 King St., to discontinue Avenue 2. Doing so would essentially hand the right of way to the private property owners on both sides.

And although the new landowner, Charles Gendron, has pledged to continue allowing the public to use the beach path, residents are wary because the arrangement would not be binding on future owners of the property.

Gendron could not be reached for comment this week.

Nicolette Yattaw, a resident of Pine Point and a local real estate agent, said “it would be tragic” if the community lost access to Avenue 2, which has served as a public path to the beach for many generations. She said the path is “used faithfully, 24/7 and in all seasons.”

She added, “It’s mind boggling how the town can even entertain this request. We’ve had these rights of way here for generations, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. What we want is a policy so we don’t keep doing this over and over.”

In 2009, residents unsuccessfully tried to prevent the town from swapping town-owned Depot Street to the owners of the Lighthouse Inn. Hundreds of people spoke out against the plan, which ultimately maintained the path to the beach and resulted in the eventual creation of a public park.

Then, in late 2014 and early 2015, the Town Council also considered a request from the Wellehan family, which owns the lot at 61 King St., directly adjacent to the public parking lot at Hurd Park, for another land swap.

The Wellehans is asking the town to discontinue the town-owned right of way known as Avenue 4, which would allow them to rebuild their aging beach cottage, while creating an 8-foot easement for a traditional beach path on one side of their property.

That proposal has stalled. But now the Gendron family is asking for similar consideration, although at a council workshop on Feb. 3, Town Manager Tom Hall called the Gendron and Wellehan proposals “materially different.”

Yattaw and another Pine Point resident, Robert Rovner, disagree. They believe the situations are nearly identical, particularly in the possible loss of traditional beach access.

Rovner, along with 15 other members of the Association of Residents in Pine Point, sent a letter to the Town Council in mid-February asking councilors to “consider the importance of maintaining public property at the shore in Pine Point for future generations.”

This week, Rovner said neighbors fear the discontinuance of Avenue 2 would “open up a can of worms” and set a bad precedent of giving up public property that’s been used for more than 100 years to provide beach access.

He called the beach access on Avenue 2 “a charming path that a lot of people use,” and said, “It’s our fear that it would be eventually eliminated. What we want is, leave things as they are.”

In the email chain created by the initial letter sent to the Town Council by the residents’ association, another Pine Pointer, Moira Erickson, said, “I am so tired of the town deciding to give away another piece of our beach and the access to it.”

Patrick Donahue, who lives on Jones Creek Drive, said, “In my view it is unthinkable and shortsighted for the town to consider selling or giving away to abutters these irreplaceable public beach access properties.”

He added, “Pine Point is fortunate that the original designers in the 1880s had the foresight to create public access that was spread out and easily accessible to both residents and visitors alike.”

Donahue also said, “I often hear from family and friends that Pine Point feels like an old-time neighborhood with its walkability being noted as a particularly desirable feature. The experience I have walking to the beach down those two discreet ways past the beach pines and sea grass is precious. Please let’s keep it that way.”

As part of the effort to preserve future beach access, the letter the residents’ association sent to the council last month also councilors “to adopt a policy of preserving these remaining important and historical assets in perpetuity by whatever means possible and to enhance and promote ongoing public use of these treasured areas consistent with the town’s Comprehensive Plan.”

The association has requested that the Town Council hold a workshop this summer to begin creating a plan “for public land in Pine Point that will achieve the goals in our Comprehensive Plan and prevent the recurring effort by individual landowners to acquire public property for their (personal) benefit.”

During its Feb. 3 workshop on the Gendron request to discontinue Avenue 2, the family’s consultant, Jim Fisher of Northeast Civil Solutions, called the public access, “a very rural path through a wooded area” and said his client has no plans “to limit access or change anything.”

All the Gendron family is asking, according to Fisher, is for the town to formally discontinue Avenue 2 and then accept a 10-foot-wide easement that would maintain the public path to the beach, while increasing the width of the lot to more easily enable the family to build a new home.

While most councilors seemed to support discontinuing Avenue 2, they were also adamant about keeping public access to the beach and not doing anything without first determining the town’s rights.

In addition, Councilor Peter Hayes argued that the council must consider what type of precedent it might be setting.

“We will need a lot of public input before we do this,” he said.

Bill Donovan, the council chairman, this week said nothing would be decided until Hall and the town attorney have had a chance to look into the town’s rights with regard to Avenue 2, and to determine how much might be added to the tax rolls by granting the majority of the right of way to private property owners.

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