SCARBOROUGH — After 4 1/2 hours of discussion Wednesday, town councilors voted 4-3 to swap a portion of a Pine Point road with a parking strip owned by a local motel.
As councilors debated the proposal to trade a strip of Depot Road in front of the Lighthouse Inn for the motel’s parking strip, both with adjoining beach access, it appeared the first of the four orders to complete the deal would fail.
“I won’t vote for this tonight,” Councilor Karen D’Andrea said.
And Councilor Carol Rancourt agreed with some residents that they “needed more time, facts and information.”
The Pine Point Residents Association and other opponents of the proposal had urged the council to consider only an even trade of land. They said the motel’s owners, Nick and Peter Truman, would benefit financially from the deal because the Trumans will end up with more land (although the town gains access to land previously donated to Scarborough by the developer of the nearby Beach Walk subdivision).
Opponents also asked the council for more time to consider alternatives, additional input from the public and a more detailed plan for the new road.
Council Chairman Mike Wood addressed many of the concerns expressed by residents, using the points made in a petition the group submitted to the council earlier in the evening. The document contained 374 signatures, according to a representative of the group.
But in his comments, Wood said the petition was not necessarily representative of Scarborough voters and pointed out that 158 of the signatories were not registered to vote in the town and, of those, 81 were not registered in the state of Maine.
Though he challenged the signatures, he said he recognized the petition represented the points most important to the group.
“The citizens’ petition can support this land swap,” he told the public.
Wood compared the goals expressed in the petition with the town’s goals of improving public vehicular and pedestrian access to the beach, improving safety by placing motel parking next to the motel instead of across the street and beautifying the area to further an “Ocean Gateway” concept.
Wood said the proposal “does meet a public benefit test.”
“I don’t think this (even swap argument) has any value,” he said. “It just depends on, does the resulting swap represent the greater good?”
Afterwards, a motion to table by Rancourt failed 5-2. The main motion passed with Councilors Ron Ahlquist, Shawn Babine, Richard Sullivan and Wood voting in favor of the swap and Councilors Judy Roy, Rancourt and D’Andrea opposed.
Once the first of the four orders pertaining to the swap had passed, much of the crowd that filled the chambers left. Though there were some last-ditch efforts by speakers to convince councilors not to approve the subsequent three orders, each of them passed 5-2, with Rancourt and D’Andrea opposed.
“I am very disappointed; I think a mistake has been made tonight,” residents association member Judy Shirk said during the meeting. “It doesn’t make sense to give that road away.”
Before councilors voted, Town Manager Tom Hall said the town attorney has determined the Town Charter would not allow an attempt to overturn the council decision via a citizen-initiated voter referendum.
Several councilors have expressed their hope that the swap would put an end to years of contention some have referred to as a feud between the residents group and the Trumans.
“We tried to do this in good faith to solve the longstanding animosity down here and the council looked at it rationally and knew it was a great opportunity to move forward,” Nick Truman said Thursday morning. “It’s tough for us to be looked at like some kind of villains all the time.”
Truman praised Hall’s “brilliant” and “stern” negotiating skills and he thanked the council for its deliberation.
“It was as fair as it could be,” he said. “Whether they had voted for or against it, I think the council couldn’t have been any more thorough.”
With the swap approved, the town will look at how to pay for the changes as it approaches the next budget. Hall said there is a possibility of grant money to fund at least a portion of the improvements. The cost of the project is unknown, since a final design has not been developed.
“Now let’s spend our energy and time on working on that area and developing that into an attractive gateway — much sooner than later,” Wood said Thursday morning.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.