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SCARBOROUGH — The Town Council is directing the town manager to negotiate with property owners in an effort to preserve public access to Pine Point beach.
The directive concerns an undeveloped portion of Avenue 2, where a path bisects properties owned by Charles Gendron and Gables by the Sea Condominiums.
The council held a workshop Wednesday to update residents on the legal issues and rights regarding the beach path.
Gendron has claimed his King Street property includes the path, but town attorney Durward Parkinson said in a Dec. 21 letter to the town that the legal issues surrounding the path are murky.
Gendron, who was not present at Wednesday’s meeting, has told the town he wants Scarborough to dissolve whatever ownership rights it may have so he can expand his property to fix his house or build a new one.
The path has been historically used as public right of way, but it is not clear who actually owns the land.
Parkinson recommended that the town negotiate an easement with Gendron to protect public access to the Atlantic Ocean at Pine Point Beach. If the town fails to negotiate with Gendron, he could sue the town for the property rights and win, in which case the town would lose all public access rights to the beach path.
“This is a conservative approach that accomplishes the Town’s goals while avoiding further litigation to settle the issue of the parcel’s ownership,” Parkinson wrote.
During the workshop, Parkinson said it’s unclear who has ownership rights to 50-foot wide right-of-way.
If the town’s right to access is dissolved, the land would be split between the two abutters, Gendron and the condominium association. Each would receive 25 feet.
Council Chairman Shawn Babine said “We will fight to retain access for the public.”
Councilor Chris Caiazzo said it’s not worth risking a legal fight with Gendron. If the town doesn’t negotiate a settlement, Gendron could sue, and the town could end up losing public access, he said.
“Our No. 1 goal is to maintain public access. … If we lose, we lose all access to it … I’d like to try negotiation first,” Caiazzo said.
But Susan Hamill, a property owner on Bay Street and a member of the Pine Point Residents Association, said she wants the town to maintain things the way they are. She doesn’t want the city to give up its rights to the property.
“If you walk that path it is like stepping into Pine Point the way it was 100 years ago. There is nothing like it,” Hamill said.
Parkinson has previously explained that because there are no formal records granting the town public use of the beach path, it would be difficult to argue that the public has a legal right to use it.
Councilor Katherine St. Clair said the town has been “taking care of this land for 50 years. It should stay the way it is.”
St. Clair said she is frustrated at the amount of time and money the issue is taking up, and wants to resolve the matter while protecting access.
“We can preserve access to the beach without owning it,” Scarborough Town Manager Thomas Hall said Wednesday during an interview.
Hall said discontinuing any claim of ownership to the land would allow the town to negotiate an easement with both abutters. Hall said the negotiations would ensure public access, and could include stipulations such as prohibiting structures from being built on the property, and parameters for landscaping.
Hall said he will meet with both parties to reach a negotiated easement agreement. The agreement would be brought back before the town council for public comment and a vote.
However, the matter “is far from done,” Hall cautioned.