SCARBOROUGH — Some residents are accusing the town manager of exceeding his authority by conducting inappropriate private meetings with owners of the Lighthouse Motel about a proposed Pine Point land swap.
During public comments at Wednesday’s Town Council meeting, Harold Hutchinson read from a letter on behalf of the Pine Point Residents Association. “Town Manager (Tom) Hall has negotiated exclusively and secretly only with attorneys representing a private interest intent on acquiring and privatizing Depot Street in Pine Point for personal gain,” Hutchinson said.
The group’s letter also implied Hall called an inappropriate executive session of the council to keep land swap discussions from the public.
But in a phone interview later, Hall said he consults with the town’s attorney about the legality of every executive session. In this case, motel owners Nick and Peter Truman had indicated in late winter they were interested in revisiting a land exchange with the town. During a March 12 executive session – the one closed-door meeting where the matter was discussed, according to Hall – he said he asked councilors if they wanted him to pursue discussions with the Trumans and was told to go ahead.
Since then, Hall said, he has been meeting regularly with them to try to negotiate a trade that would “improve the quality of life down there and offer opportunities for people to reach that beach in a way that’s more attractive than today.”
He also said he had made it a point to inform representatives of the Pine Point association that he was talking with the Trumans.
“I could have chosen not to do that. Beyond that, I’m having conversations with a private party; I’m entitled to do that,” Hall said. “There are dozens, hundreds, of things I’m working on on a daily basis that aren’t ready for the council yet. I feel very comfortable I’ve been as open as possible.”
The goal of the land swap is to secure a drop-off area for the beach on a
3,400-square-foot piece of property donated to the town by original
Beach Walk developer Paul Hollis.The land abuts much of the motel’s parking strip, which is on the opposite side of Depot Road from the 22-unit, two-story motel.
The configuration of the motel parking has been a source of contention for the residents group, which has pushed for better beach access for the public down the short stretch of Depot Road. The group’s members have claimed the Trumans have tried to privatize the road, assisted by the town when it put up barriers to improve safety.
Most likely, any land swap proposal would include relocating motel parking to next to the building on what is now Depot Road and incorporating the current parking strip with the small piece of donated land.
About five years ago, a similar land swap was discussed as part of a plan to rework the 50-year-old motel into seven townhouse condominiums. At that time, the Pine Point group opposed the plan. Eventually, the Trumans’ plan was scaled back to as few as five condos, but according to a statement made by Nick Truman several years ago, the group interfered to the point that he and his brother chose to withdraw their proposal, causing the land swap deal to fall through. They eventually sold off abutting land, which included the donated portion, that was later developed into the Beach Walk subdivision.
The dispute was just one of several between the neighbors in the last few years. The association fought for removal of the orange barrels from Depot Road and a chicane that replaced them, argued against conversion of the motel into 22 “condotels” two years ago, and tried to force the Trumans to remove a stockade fence they erected to divide their parking strip from Beach Walk’s construction.
Though details of the possible land swap aren’t expected to be made public until the council’s June 17 meeting, Hall indicated the parties are close to an agreement that would have to be approved by the council.
Council Chairman Mike Wood said Wednesday that he is interested in the proposal as a way to provide the town with “a viable plan that benefits not only the Pine Point area, but the community of Scarborough.”
When the town was approached by the Trumans about a potential swap, “everybody would have found it ridiculous if we’d said no,” Wood said.
“But (discussion) is not open to the public because you get involved in people’s privacy,” Wood added. “I don’t know why this would be painful for anybody. My wish has always been to have unfettered, usable opportunities for anybody to access that beach.”
In addition to Hutchinson, several other members of the Pine Point group on Wednesday criticized Hall and the town, and Hall later said he would respond to the council regarding the “allegations leveled against the town (that) were patently false and unfair.”
While he said everyone has a right to their opinion, the allegations were “disturbing” and some of them confused the larger issue, hindering the town from continuing the land swap discussions.
“The test is, if the public benefits,” Hall said. “If there wasn’t any benefit to the public, then there wouldn’t be any sense in talking. We’re not here to assist anyone in their development plans. But if there’s a secondary benefit to another party, that’s fine, if the public is better served.”
Nick and Peter Truman declined to comment for this story.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.