2012-10-19 / Community

Landscape architect has had hand in Cape changes

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

John Mitchell John Mitchell John Mitchell has seen Cape Elizabeth change quite drastically since he moved to the town nearly 40 years ago. But Mitchell, a local landscape architect, has had more of a hand in that change than most longtime residents have.

Because of his contributions to the character of Cape Elizabeth, the town awarded Mitchell with its Ralph T. Gould Citizen of the Year award for 2012, named for the Cape philanthropist who won the first award in 1986.

“He’s infused the character of so many places in Cape Elizabeth and made them more beautiful and more usable,” said Town Council Chairman Sara Lennon as she presented the award to Mitchell at a Wednesday, Oct. 10 meeting.

Mitchell moved to Cape Elizabeth in 1976 from Scituate, Mass., and joined a local landscape architecture firm. Shortly thereafter, he branched out on his own. His firm, Mitchell & Associates, had a hand in the design of the original Fort Williams Master Plan in 1976. As part of that plan, the entrance to the park moved to its current location, where visitors drive in from Shore Road and are immediately greeted with sweeping views of the park.

More recently, Mitchell was a landscape consultant for the Shore Road Path, a project that has been in the works for years and now is nearly finished. The town held an opening ceremony for the path, which runs from the town center to Fort Williams Park, on Oct. 8; about 150 people attended.

The path comes from a design originally proposed as part of the town’s 2004 comprehensive plan, but Mitchell said that plan wasn’t the first time the idea of the Shore Road Path came up in town.

“I was involved in the previous proposal 15 or so years ago. At that time it was proposed as a bikeway,” Mitchell said.

The bikeway design involved widening the road to insert two bike lanes on either side of Shore Road. Like the current design, Mitchell said the original proposal would be about 80 percent grant-funded. The proposal was turned down, but Mitchell thinks it all turned out for the better.

“I think as things played out, this is a better solution to a walkway or pathway along Shore Road than the previous,” Mitchell said. “Shore Road was a very dangerous road because of the volume of traffic, the speed, the curves and the hills.”

Now his firm, based in downtown Portland, has turned its attention to another project that relates to Fort Williams Park. The firm has designed a proposal for the Children’s Garden, scheduled to be built in 2013 and 2014.

Mitchell’s work is not limited to his hometown alone. His firm has also designed the Intermed and University of Southern Maine student housing buildings on Marginal Way in Portland, the Morrison Center in Scarborough, a support center for children and adults with disabilities, and the Fort Williams Park master plan update.

The award ceremony Wednesday night at Cape Elizabeth Town Hall was attended by many members of Mitchell’s family, including all seven of his granddaughters, five of whom live in Cape Elizabeth, one in Kennebunkport and one in Boston.

“It’s very humbling to stand here and receive this award. We’ve always felt fortunate when we moved to Maine and settled in Cape Elizabeth that we settled here and raised our family. It truly is a very special community,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell is approaching his 66th birthday and said he considers retirement a “doubleedged sword.” While he looks forward to having more time to sail and to spend with his grandchildren, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to give up his work entirely, and he expects to remain involved with the landscape architecture business at least on a part-time basis.

It’s been nearly four decades since Mitchell opened his own landscape architecture firm, and, as he says, “I’ve been going ever since.”

Residents in Cape Elizabeth hope he doesn’t decide to call it quits any time soon.

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