Against the background of Cape Elizabeth’s beautiful shoreline, an ugly issue is at the surface in the Shore Acres neighborhood.
A tense debate over oceanfront access has neighbors pitted against neighbors.
The debate is over so-called paper streets, which are proposed roads that were never built.
The Town Council decided to start the process of giving up its rights to that land and now some neighbors fear they’ll lose access to public ways they’ve enjoyed for decades.
More than a hundred years ago, developers of the neighborhood plotted two public streets, which are seen in subdivision plans, but those streets were never built and exist only on paper.
“It’s shoreline access. It’s very rare to have a paper street on the shoreline, and it’s a gem of an opportunity and it should be shared,” said local resident Deb Murphy.
Last month, town councilors voted to start the process of vacating its rights to the paper streets and any future waterfront trails, which the town has talked about building.
“The neighborhood’s concerns of safety and cars coming and people. If we were to put a path in that would forever change this neighborhood,” said town councilor Patricia Grennon during a Town Council meeting last month.
Jeff Monroe has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years.
“If these paper streets are abandoned, waterfront access would be curtailed and citizens of Cape Elizabeth would not have the opportunity to be able to get down and walk these trails,” Monroe said.
He said the decision by four of the seven town councilors benefits just a few property owners who want to cut off public access.
Those property owners interviewed by CBS 13 with say that’s not true.
For example, an existing gravel path is on one of the paper streets and even though it’s owned by a private waterfront homeowner’s association, they say people will still be able to walk it.
“Well, at what peril? It’s very unlikely based on experience. When people of this community have walked the path they’ve been harassed; one person was spat upon, name calling; it’s been very difficult,” said Paul Moson, who lives in the neighborhood.
Councilors who support giving up the town’s control of the paper streets said any expansion of the existing path would go too close to houses — even through yards and gardens.
“It’s a much bigger and broader issue about an aggressive diminishment of individuals’ fundamental right to enjoy property,” said Town Councilor Sara Lennon.
Citizen’s petitions were presented to the Town Council last week asking councilors to re-consider.