Status of Cape Elizabeth 'paper' street again fuels debate

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The fate of Surfside Avenue in Shore Acres is uncertain for the second time in three years as the Town Council prepares to decide whether to keep some “paper” streets.

Paper streets are roads that were laid out in subdivisions, but never constructed or accepted by the town. In 1997 the town had its rights over paper streets extended for 20 years by the state, and must complete a re-evaluation by 2017.

Councilors on June 22 reviewed some of the town’s 55 paper streets and discussed whether to accept them as trails or public ways, extend the paper status for another 20 years, or to vacate the streets and divide the properties among abutters. No final decisions were made in the workshop.

Town Manager Mike McGovern said the council will probably extend the rights of most of the paper streets, will accept a few as public ways, and will vacate a few. 

When councilors began the process of reviewing the streets last year they first asked the Planning Board and Conservation Commission for recommendations. The council then held a series of neighborhood meetings to discuss the paper streets with residents who live near them.

Making a decision about Surfside Avenue in particular, which is between Pilot Point, Algonquin, and Waumbek roads, has divided councilors.

At the June 22 workshop, some said they enjoy walking along Surfside Avenue and that it should become a public trail.

Others said residents whose homes abut Surfside Avenue often become upset when people walk on the road. McGovern said Surfside has “garnered the most attention” among residents in the year-long paper streets discussion.

Surfside Avenue was the topic of similar discussion in 2013, when the Conservation Commission suggested making the paper street part of the town’s Greenbelt trail system. Residents living along the road said they didn’t want people walking through their backyards, although other residents in town said the road should be publicly accessible.

The commission presented the plan to the Town Council in October 2013 and didn’t include Surfside Avenue in it, because of the concerns of those living nearby. The council, however, voted 5-2 in January 2014 to make part of the road a Greenbelt trail.

With the paper street evaluation taking place, it’s possible the entire road could become a public way. 

People walking on Surfside Avenue on Wednesday said they’d like to see it remain a paper street. They said they don’t live near Surfside Avenue and walk it often.

“As it is right now, I think it’s perfect,” Frank Kasilowski said. “I’m sure people who live here wouldn’t want it more public.”

Peggy Kasilowski agreed.

“I wouldn’t want the improvements to make it public,” she said. “I like the wildness of it.”

Deciding what course of action to take with the cliffside road will require a lot of discussion, McGovern said.

“This still has a long way to go,” he said.

McGovern said the council won’t discuss paper streets again until Aug. 8. A public hearing is then expected to be scheduled for Sept. 12. He said the council hopes to make decisions on the streets by the end of 2016.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

The Town Council must decide by the end of the year whether Surfside Avenue, a paper street in Shore Acres in Cape Elizabeth, should remain a paper street or become a public way.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.
  • Mainer1

    It was always public until recently a sign was put up that said no motor vehicle traffic. New homes and new people trying to stop a road used by townfolks for a century.