2017-09-01 / Front Page

City set to give up rights to 13 ‘paper streets’

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Examples of the 80 so-called paper streets in South Portland (streets laid out on subdivision plans but never built), are these two located between Lawn Avenue and Lincoln Street. The city council is expected to vote Sept. 6 to retain rights to No. 80, known as Allston Street, which would link Lawn Avenue with Lincoln Street. However, it has signaled plans to relinquish its right to accept as a public way the unnamed road at No. 79, which would run from the unbuilt Allston Street to the back yards of homes at 36 and 40 Curtis Street. In all, the council is slated to vote for retaining rights to 67 paper streets while passing on 13, which would give abutting landowners an opportunity to claim rights up to the centerline. (Courtesy photo) Examples of the 80 so-called paper streets in South Portland (streets laid out on subdivision plans but never built), are these two located between Lawn Avenue and Lincoln Street. The city council is expected to vote Sept. 6 to retain rights to No. 80, known as Allston Street, which would link Lawn Avenue with Lincoln Street. However, it has signaled plans to relinquish its right to accept as a public way the unnamed road at No. 79, which would run from the unbuilt Allston Street to the back yards of homes at 36 and 40 Curtis Street. In all, the council is slated to vote for retaining rights to 67 paper streets while passing on 13, which would give abutting landowners an opportunity to claim rights up to the centerline. (Courtesy photo) SOUTH PORTLAND At its Sept. 6 meeting, the South Portland City Council is slated to give up its rights to 13 so-called paper streets – roadways created as part of subdivision plans, but never actually built.

The 13 were culled over the past several months from a list of 80 such phantom roads, most laid out in the early 20th century, but at least one dating as far back as 1898.

According to a 2013 article by Dale McGarrigle in the Maine Townsman – the monthly publication of the Maine Municipal Association – “From the date of recording of a subdivision plan in the registry (of deeds), the public acquires a right of ‘incipient dedication,’ which means that the municipality has a right to accept the paper street, once built (usually to town standards) as a town way.”

Maine had no laws governing subdivisions until 1971, McGarrigle writes. Then, in 1987, the Legislature added a rule stating that, as of Sept. 29, 1997 – or 15 years after the road was laid out, if done after September 1982 – municipalities would automatically lose the right to ever accept these unbuilt thoroughfares as public roads unless they acted specifically to declare a continued interest in seeing a road built there at some future date.

In 1997, the South Portland City Council voted to continue its “incipient rights” in 80 unbuilt roads then on the books. But the 1987 rule calls on that interest being re-asserted once more after another 20 years. The next deadline – Sept. 29, 2017 – is right around the corner.

According to McGarrigle, “If an extension was claimed, it lasted for 20 years, and could be extended again for another 20 years (40 years total).”

That would seem to mean that in 2037 municipalities will lose all rights to any older phantom roads left unbuilt. However, at an Aug. 14 workshop, many city councilors seemed to operate under the impression that they, or their successors, will get another bite at the road apple in 2037.

Councilor Linda Cohen praised the use of a web application tool, available on the city website since earlier this year, which allowed residents to view maps of the 80 existing paper streets and to make comments on each, recommending whether rights should be retained, or let go. Cohen was city clerk in 1997, and said this more recent attempt at vetting paper streets was both more comprehensive and inclusive than the last go-round. However, she expressed frustration with the fact that a final vote on the roads will take place only 11 days before the deadline to file with the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, declaring South Portland’s continued interest in 67 of the paper streets.

“My only concern is the speed with which this came upon us,” she said. “We knew it was coming. If we vacate these 13, let’s not wait until 2037 to get to the next batch. I just don’t want to see another council feeling like they are a little rushed in making the decision,” Cohen said.

“My thought is, now that we’ve got lot of good data on each of these streets, we could meet every now and again and come forward to the council one-by-one with recommendations for either acceptance, construction, or letting them go,” said City Planner Tex Haeuser.

At the Aug. 14 workshop, there was very little discussion among council members on the 13 streets up for elimination from the city record, most of which, Haeuser noted, are in the Cash Corner area. With all department heads and many members of the public having weighed in, there seemed little to add. Haeuser said at least two of the 13 roads had drawn public comment on the web tool recommending that the city retain rights to 2037. However, the people who left those remarks either gave no reason for that choice, or else seemed to have picked the 2037 option mistakenly from a drop-down menu, given comments added, such as, “road construction unlikely.”

If the city does not retain its incipient right, to a paper street, ownership can revert to the abutting property owners up to the centerline.

“In order to activate those rights they would have to take some kind of additional legal step,” Haeuser said.

However, claiming ownership of an unclaimed road is no slam dunk. In a few cases, Haeuser said, the original developer may have retained rights that would carry through to his or her heirs.

“Title research needs to be done. You can’t say what the situation is without doing the research,” Haeuser said.

In some cases, paper streets remain unbuilt, but end up becoming public easements, used by the city for water drainage areas, or to run undergound utilities. Councilor Eben Rose asked if there was a way to retain such easements on any of the current paper streets for purposes other than roads not envisioned when they were laid out, including “travel corridors” for pedestrians, wildlife and bees.

Councilor Sue Henderson, meanwhile, stumped for leaving the paper streets as is.

“I wonder if, if nothing else, these couldn’t just be little patches of green in the city, making oxygen,” she said.

“I don’t think the city has those rights,” replied Councilor Claude Morgan, acting as chairman for the meeting.

“If the residents in that subdivision decided they wanted to build a road there tomorrow, they have that right,” said Sally Daggett, the council’s contracted attorney.

“The city’s only right is the right to accept in the future that paper street as a public way. Beyond that it becomes a much more complex private rights issue,” Daggett said. “If the city should vacate its interests, every property owner in that subdivision retains the rights to travel over that strip, but as to property (ownership) rights of it, that’s another decision for another day that does not involve the city of South Portland.

“That is a property rights issue and that’s not what’s before the council tonight,” Daggett said. “That’s something the city doesn’t have any role in resolving.”

“Our task is simple,” Haeuser said. “Really, it’s to decide, are there any of these 80 streets that there’s really no reason for the city to try to keep the potential for accepting and building (into actual) streets?”

The batch of 13 that Haeuser nominated for the waiving of rights were the ones that, of the 80, seemed to “have some unanimity from the staff and the public,” he said. Notices will be sent to abutting landowners of those roads for the first hearing on the abandonment of rights by the city, Wednesday, Sept. 6 – a special date because of the Labor Day holiday. Final passage is expected Sept. 18.

Of the 13 roads to be vacated, three date to 1909 as part of the Pleasantdale Park subdivision. One is a short link between two sections of old railroad line, one officially a paper street known as “Lawn Avenue,” which crosses the end of Bowdoin Street, and the other known as Elizabeth Taylor Lane, which used to cross at the intersection of Broadway and Evans Street. Another is an extension of Rosedale Avenue, past Chambers Avenue, which actually crosses the “Lawn Avenue” railroad line.

One of the paper streets, located in the Lincoln Heights subdivision, is off another paper street that connects to the real Lawn Avenue. At the end of Lawn Avenue, there is a paper street that dates to 1920 that runs perpendicular from it to Lincoln Street. Known as Allston Street, it is on the list to be retained, despite the narrowness of the space between the buildings at 1 Lawn Ave. and 321 Lincoln St. – meaning it would be hard to build any kind of a road up to city codes – and the poor visibility for any cars entering Lincoln Street at that point. The unnamed paper street to be vacated would turn off Allston Street, if ever built, run a short distance, then turn into the back yards of the homes at 36 and 40 Curtis St.

Another paper street in Pleasantdale is a short spit adjacent to the H. B. Fleming contracting company at 89 Pleasant Ave. That one could pose a problem if the city decided a road was required there, even though it would only lead to the back of a house at 30 Thadeus St., because an extension of the Fleming building was built over the right-of-way for the nonexistent road. Meanwhile, the last of the Pleasantdale paper streets is on the other side of the Fleming property, running right through its lay-down yard, running off of Pleasant Street toward, but not quite connecting to, Kingston Street.

Two of the streets slated for the vacating of city rights are in Liberty Heights, between Cash Street and Skillings Street. One would have extended Thadeus Street across Cash to Skillings, while the other would have similarly extended Hunnewell Street. In both cases, there appear to be outbuildings for homes on Skillings Street now in the way of completing either road to that point, should a decision ever be made to do so.

Two of the older phantom roads date to 1908 and are in the Bonnybank subdivision. One would extend the driveway at 38 Bonnybank Terrace all the way to Romano Road, while the other would run between the homes at 38 and 48 Bonnybriar Road into the back of a home recently built at 39 Bonnybank Terrance.

The oldest paper street dates to 1898 and is a short section leading off of Rumery Street into Rigby Railyard. It has a number of storage containers on it.

The newest was designed in 1947. It would extend Prides Road across Evergreen Road and into Interstate 295.

Of the two remaining roads, one in the Cumberland Manor subdivision near Dyer Elementary School would extend the driveway at 28 Alfred St. behind the homes on Evans Street at far as No. 195, taking out a storage shed behind No. 185.

Finally, a paper street in the Samuel Angell Estates subdivision would extend Coolidge Avenue past Boyd Road into the back yards of homes at 553 and 557 Preble St.

Maps for all of the 80 papers streets in South Portland, including the 13 to be vacated – including city staff and public comments made through July 21 – can be viewed using the web app found online at southportland.maps.arcgis.com/home/ index.html.

Staff Writer Duke Harrington can be reached at news@inthesentry.com.

FMI

Below is a chart of the 13 so-called papers streets the South Portland City Council is expected to relinquish rights to at a vote in September. Information on these and all 80 paper streets in the city can viewed using a web application found online at southportland.maps.arcgis.com/home/index.html

Return to top