2017-08-25 / Community

Council reverses decision on paper streets in Cape

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – After a flood of comments from residents in the Shore Acres and Lighthouse Point areas of Cape Elizabeth, the town council has reversed a decision it made in July to begin the process of vacating paper streets on Surfside Avenue, Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road.

Paper streets are streets that exist on paper or in plans, but were never accepted by the town and were never developed. At its July 10 meeting, the council voted 4-3 (with Councilors Caitlin Jordan, Penny Jordan, Sarah Lennon and Patty Grennon voting in the affirmative) to start vacating, or giving up the rights, to the three paper streets. Councilor Penny Jordan, however, asked fellow councilors to reconsider their votes at the council’s Aug. 14 meeting.

“I regret my July vote and therefore I am asking we bring the motion forward from the July 10 … for reconsideration,” Penny Jordan said.

She said although the process was “technically legal,” it didn’t give councilors enough time to properly understand what was being proposed and didn’t let members of the public “know we were contemplating doing anything but receiving a report.”

She said after reflection, she believed “vacating the paper streets in question is actually counter to the goals of Cape Elizabeth to maintain open space areas for citizen to enjoy the vistas and the character of the town. Taking away public land and the public’s right is not in the public’s best interest.”

Council Chairman Jamie Garvin said per council rules when someone votes in the prevailing side, he or she can opt for a reconsider vote at the next regularly scheduled council meeting. The council unanimously reopened the vote.

“One thing the council takes very seriously is the notion of serving our citizens well, good government, effective leadership and doing what is in their best interest in a transparent manner. Tonight’s agenda is a reflection of that,” he said.

Although she voted to not vacate the Shore Acres and Lighthouse Point paper street last week, councilor Caitlin Jordan defended her motion to do so July 10. She said the motion to vacate the streets, which was drafted by the town attorney and submitted to councilors several days before the meeting, in an effort to keep a trail from being constructed in Shore Acres.

“There has been a lot of accusations in the last month about the lack of notice and transparency and the process. The issue of paper streets was on the agenda. I made a motion to deal with the paper streets – a motion drafted by the town attorney word for word,” she said. “I will apologize some will see this as not being given notice, but I did not see it that way when I made the motion, but do apologize that it appeared that way to others. My belief at the time, just once month ago, was the best way not to have a greenbelt trail developed is to vacate the paper streets, which is why I made that motion to begin that process, a process, in an of itself, that requires additional public notice and public hearings.”

“When I supported beginning a process, I thought it was just that – starting a longer discussion and process. I thought that was an OK motion because it came from legal. Those were assumptions I made based on and consistent with how I voted in the past. I am glad we’ve heard loud and clear from people,” said Grennon, who added she is “looking forward to slowing this way, way down and really pulling things apart and looking at some of the options.”

Paper streets is something Cape Elizabeth and other communities have been dealing with for some time and in September 1997 set a 20-year deadline to decide whether to extend the town’s rights to the paper street or not. In October 2016, the council acted on 58 paper streets in town, retaining the rights to 32 of them, vacating seven of them and setting aside 19 of them for pedestrian or bicyclist use. At that meeting, the council pulled the three aforementioned papers streets out for individual review, deciding to extend their rights there and directed the conservation commission to look at the feasibility of trails on those properties, especially the Shore Acres paper streets.

Now that the rights have not been vacated, the council will meet with the conservation commission about the topic Wednesday, Sept. 6 beginning at 7 p.m. in the William H. Jordan Conference Room.

Lennon said she hopes the workshop will lead to a better, less contentious solution regarding the future of those paper streets.

“I don’t think any of us meant to cause the firestorm that we did or in any way hijack the process. We’ve learned a difficult lesson and I really truly believe if we can move forward from now, in the spirit of problem solving together, that we will come up with a great solution that may, that may be on some level, be a compromise,” she said.

Grennon said input from the public between that July vote and the one held earlier this month has cast the issue in a new light for the council.

“There were some new things that were shared that no one had ever said before and made us think differently,” she said.

Many of the residents from the standing-room only crowd, including Avon Road resident Pricilla Armstrong, applauded the council’s reconsideration.

“It always takes a lot of courage to say, perhaps, a previous action was not the way to go, so I truly appreciate your willingness to do this,” she said.

“Your consideration of this,” Jeff Monroe, a resident of Katahdin Road said, “shows you are sensitive to the needs of the citizens you represent and that is the most critical message here. I urge the council to reconsider this and put it into a critical public process. 38 years I’ve seen this come up and go down again and come up and go down again. You know what, a little bit extra time isn’t going to hurt.”

He added that in the long run it will bring the community to the point where “we can understand each other’s viewpoints and find that common ground.”

Armstrong, along with others, urged councilors to consider the paper streets issues at Surfside Avenue/ Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road separately.

“I think this could be much easier because we don’t have the contention in our neighborhood,” said Gail Krusec, a Lighthouse Point Road resident, who asked the council to “leave standing the petition to vacate Lighthouse Point Road paper street and leave that as a separate issue.”

Mitchell Lench, a resident of Lighthouse Point Road, said the topic of paper streets has plagued his neighborhood for the last five years.

“We’ve sat through I don’t know how many discussions and the same points being made. Our neighborhood is extremely weary from this whole process that just keeps on going,” Lench said.

Jim Morra of Waumbak Road said the vast majority of people who have signed previous petitions on the subject have been residents who live outside the Shore Acres and Lighthouse Point Road neighborhoods.

“You have put us at a crossroads. Your actions on these paper streets will decide if we are a town that acts in the best interest of the majority of residents or a town that acts in the best interest of small special interest groups,” he said. “You’re deciding if we are a town that follows the American ideals of government: by the people, for the people.”

Richard Byrant of Spurwink Road said he was “very encouraged” by what he heard from the council at the meeting.

“Moving forward none of these issues will be solved easily, but I think with goodwill from all sides, there is a solution out there,” he said.

“This really is a matter of weighing public benefit with individual private rights and there is a balance to be made there,” he continued, adding he supports vacating the Lighthouse Point Road paper streets because it is the “sole means of potential public access to that Coast Guard property should that come to the town’s hands in the future.”

The decision as to which way to go won’t be easy, but Tim Thompson, a resident of Pine Ridge Road said “if we get the process right, we should be able to come up with a solution.”

“Tonight,” he added, “you’ve all made me very proud.”

Staff Writer Michael Kelley can be reached at 282-4337, ext. 237.

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