2013-09-20 / Front Page

Greenbelt goes to council for more discussion

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer


The Surfside Avenue path provides Shore Acres residents with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. Some neighborhood residents want to preserve the path for future generations by adding it to the town’s network greenbelt trails. However, opponents of adding the trail to the Greenbelt say it does not help connect the town’s interlocking trails, and a costly legal battle could ensue. (Jack Flagler photo) The Surfside Avenue path provides Shore Acres residents with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean. Some neighborhood residents want to preserve the path for future generations by adding it to the town’s network greenbelt trails. However, opponents of adding the trail to the Greenbelt say it does not help connect the town’s interlocking trails, and a costly legal battle could ensue. (Jack Flagler photo) CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Conservation Commission has finished its proposed plan to update the town’s system of Greenbelt trails, but the controversy surrounding the process that caused hundreds of residents to speak up at the commission’s monthly meetings is not likely to end as the plan moves from the volunteer board to the town council.

Commission members unanimously decided to strike the proposed trail that would have been built in the Two Lights Road neighborhood after many residents expressed concern the trail would bring unwanted tourist traffic to their neighborhood.

The Two Lights Road path was one of five trails commission members voted not to include in their final proposal to the town council, leaving 23 trails in the plan that could potentially be added to the network in the long-term future.

Most of those trails are uncontroversial paths that would help the commission achieve its goal of an interconnected system that residents could follow to access different areas of town or simply go out for a long walk. However, one proposed oceanfront trail near Broad Cove has divided residents of the Shore Acres neighborhood.

The proposed trail would expand a gravel path, called Surfside Avenue, that runs along the coast from the end of Pilot Point Road and is frequently used by neighborhood residents. Connie Pacillo, a Shore Acres resident who lives on Reef Road, said adding the path to the network of Greenbelt trails would ensure the beautiful property is maintained and preserved for both neighborhood residents and visitors.

“We are looking at this as something that is good for the public interest. Not everyone lives in this amazing area and has access. This is a bigger picture ideal. We’re looking outside ourselves and saying, ‘What’s good for Cape? What’s good for our community?’” Pacillo said.

Pilot Point Road resident Betsy French said the path would be the only section of the proposed Greenbelt expansion that includes oceanfront property, and inclusion on the Greenbelt would ensure preservation for future generations.

“It’s a beautiful place and it needs to be shared,” said Deborah Murphy, French’s neighbor on Pilot Point Road who also supports the greenbelt path. “We are all stewards of this earth and our job is to protect it and to share it.”

However, opponents of the trail say it does not fit with the conservation commission’s goal of increasing Greenbelt connectivity. Julie Wooden, a Pilot Point Road resident, described the path as “from nowhere to nowhere” and said the town would be better served devoting its resources to paths that connect different areas of town.

Sara Lennon, who served on the town council through 2012, attended many of the conservation commission’s meetings and urged the board to strike any paths that may lead to tension in neighborhoods or long legal battles for the town.

“I hope the town council will move expeditiously to adopt trails that are inexpensive, non-contentious and connected to the larger Greenbelt system – and in so doing begin to heal angry neighborhoods, rebuild citizen trust, and finish this protracted, difficult project,” Lennon wrote in an email.

Surfside Avenue is a “paper street,” meaning it was included as a road in the original subdivision plan for the Shore Acres neighborhood. That classification gives each of the neighborhood residents access to the path and could give the town a right to a public easement.

Council Chairman Jim Walsh wrote in a letter to Shore Acres residents in April the town “recognizes the implied easement held by lot owners in the Shore Acres subdivision and will not interfere with those rights. Further, the town will not abandon its right of incipient dedication.”

However, the issue of whether the town’s right to build on the paper street has already lapsed is a somewhat complex legal matter. Supporters of the path note the town council voted in 1997 to preserve its right to paper streets for the future. However, attorney Robert Stier wrote a letter to the town questioning whether the right to the street had lapsed before the council made that 1997 decision.

Regardless of the correct interpretation, town attorney Thomas Leahy wrote in a letter dated July 3 that litigation in the matter would be costly because it would require an extensive fact-finding mission to clarify “the unsettled areas of law involved.”

Garvan Donegan, chairman of the conservation commission, said individuals on both sides of the issue presented a compelling case to the board and should have the right to do so to the council as well.

“Both sides have fair points. In many ways, I agree with both sides. These two sides really deserve an opportunity to talk to their elected officials about this and the council should have that forum to discuss these issues,” Donegan said.

Commission members included with the plan a non-binding memo prioritizing their top five proposed trails. None of the seven members included the Surfside Road trail. Instead, many focused on proposed trails in the northern side of town near the Loveitt Woods property that Donegan said would connect an “underserved” section of Cape Elizabeth.

The Surfside Avenue trail was included, Donegan said, as one of a group of “informal trails” – preserved, maintained and used by residents – which the commission is hoping to preserve for the long-term future.

The council will have a number of options when it is scheduled to review the Greenbelt plan at its Monday, Oct. 7 meeting. Because of strong public input, Donegan believes a final decision will likely not be reached at the meeting. Instead, the council may call a workshop to review the plan and gather more feedback from the conservation commission and members of the public.

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at sentry.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top