2016-07-15 / Community

Cape gives go-ahead for land trust purchase

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — In a narrow 4-3 vote at its July 11 meeting, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council agreed to a management plan for conservation land located near Great Pond.

Last month, the council pledged $75,000 to help the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust buy a 23-acre parcel located between Great Pond and Ocean House Road, near Jewett Road. The property, owned by Barry Glew, borders existing conservation land and the trust has signed a contract to acquire the site for $315,000. An Aug. 1 closing date for the deal is expected.

According to Cindy Krum, executive director of the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, the purchase – to be known “Great Pond Preserve II” – offers an “opportunity for the type of connectivity that’s so critical to the town’s mission in their greenbelt plan.”

But when agreeing to help fund the purchase, the council set a few stipulations. One, naturally enough, was that the land trust come up with the rest of the necessary money on its own. Another was the drafting of a legal agreement between the town and the trust governing management of the property.

That agreement, signed Monday, creates a public-access easement naming both the town and the trust as stewards of the property. But councilors Kathy Ray and Jessica Sullivan, as well as Chairman Molly MacAuslan voted against the management agreement, objecting primarily to a clause in the easement that gives the land trust final say in the event of any disagreement with the town over public-access projects.

“When it was discussed that we would be jointly identifying and developing projects, this gave us a lot of rights,” said Ray. “However, that sentence right there takes away all those perceived rights, because if there’s a disagreement we’re giving them the authority to make the final decision.”

“Considering that we are giving $75,000 of taxpayer dollars to this project, I will be voting against this,” Ray said.

However, the majority of the council backed the agreement, even with the offending clause, because the town donation is less than a quarter of the full purchase price, as because the council has a history of support for land preservation, including an extensive network of public access trails.

Common goals with the land trust, and shared support for conservation and public access, would seem to make disputes over access projects “highly unlikely,” Councilor Sara Lennon said.

“I think if you made a Venn diagram, our interests are about 90 percent overlap,” she said. “I just don’t want to run the risk of losing our part of it entirely. I mean, we back out of this and then we would have no say at the table, I think that would be very unfortunate.”

At the June meeting, land trust board member Elizabeth Goodspeed, said her group does indeed look forward to increased collaboration with the town.

“This is really a perfect opportunity for that, because we can work together on the placement of trails, creation of new trails, non-motorized public access uses and also increasing connectivity with both existing and future town trails,” she said.

Land trust President Anne Carney said that for its $75,000, the town council does get “joint decision-making” on all projects related to public access, including location of trails and the setting of any use restrictions on the property, as well as transfer of the site to third parties.

“In addition to all of that shared and joint decision making, and I think this is a really great benefit for all of the citizens of the town, the land trust under the public access agreement agrees to be responsible for all construction, financing and completion of all public access projects agreed to,” she said. “So, I think that is very fiscally responsible on the part of the town.”

Carney said the land trust expects to work amicably with the council. However, she said that because the land trust will own the property, and because the agreement will stand far into the future, the trust needed to guard itself from any changes that may occur as new councilors come on and off the board over the next 50 to 100 years.

“The town faces a lot of competing pressures. We only wear one hat. For that reason it’s very important to the land trust, in the agreement that there’s a disagreement, has the final decision making authority,” she said.

According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, the $75,000 donation will very nearly deplete the town’s land acquisition, including $32,000 allocated in the 2016-17 budget that went into effect July 1.

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