Scarborough gives up beach path, retains public access

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SCARBOROUGH — Following two years of negotiations and a 5-2 final vote, the Town Council Wednesday decided to discontinue a 19th-century beach access path in order to preserve public access. 

Determining ownership of the strip of land that runs from King Street to Pine Point Beach caused the two-year delay in reaching an agreement. Under the agreement, the town has a right-of-way easement that preserves public access and protects dunes near the pathway.

Councilors Katy Foley and Peter Hayes voted in the minority, saying they believe the town would have had a strong case if the matter went to court, and Foley said negotiations with property owners should have begun during court proceedings.  

The matter first came to the council after property owner Charles Gendron approached the town about discontinuing Avenue 2 because he needed additional land as dictated by setback ordinances to build a larger home on his property, according to Gendron’s attorney, John Bannon. 

Gables on the Sea Condominium Association, which also abuts the path, sought to limit certain types of activity, such as camping and fires, and hours of use, which bothered other town residents committed to preserving public use. The limits were nixed from the agreement because town ordinances already regulate public parks.

Under the new agreement, Gendron will be deeded the land at no cost and can build up to 25 feet from the centerline of the path. In exchange, the town will receive a perpetual easement, according to town attorney Benjamin McCall.

Hayes said the town has not done its due diligence throughout the process of discontinuing Avenue 2. He said the council has underestimated the mood of the community, and residents he speaks with do not want the path discontinued.

Hayes said the situation was one where a wealthy property owner saw a loophole to exploit and enrich himself, even though he knew the community was opposed.

During public comment, some residents echoed that opinion, saying it appears the town worked to accommodate Gendron, who saw an opportunity to gain additional property at the expense of the public. 

Council Chairman William Donovan said the goal of the negotiations and agreement was always to preserve public access. He said the town does not own the land and needed to reach a solution. 

Pine Point resident Don Hamill, a member of the Pine Point Neighborhood Association, which participated in negotiations with the abutting landowners and the town, said he was disappointed by the process, even though the group’s influence made the agreement a more positive outcome for the town.

But the association had to retainits own attorney, and he said the town must be more communicative and more transparent.

“We saved the path, but maybe not forever,” Hamill said. “We have major issues ahead as a town: the environment, development, schools. Are we going to have acrimonious special-interest politics, or are we going to collaborate, compromise and solicit public input?”

Councilor Jean Marie Caterina said she didn’t understand why the public believes the town did not listen, since many public hearings and discussions were held. She said the town never claimed the pathway in the 1990s, and so access was not guaranteed.

“There is no guarantee if it goes to court,” she said.

Juliette Laaka can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or at jlaaka@theforecaster.net. 

Avenue 2 in Scarborough runs from King Street to Pine Point Beach, between properties owned by Charles P. Gendron, left, and The Gables by the Sea. Under an agreement between the town and property owners, public access will be preserved in exchange for the town giving up its claim to the land. 

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