CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Debate broke out during a Town Council meeting on Monday over a planned walking trail that would cut straight through some resident’s backyards.
The Cape Elizabeth Conservation Commission formally presented to the council its 2013 Draft Greenbelt Plan, which includes a seaside trail that would run through several private properties in the Shore Acres neighborhood, on a paper street called Surfside Avenue.
The Greenbelt is a trail network that includes more than 15 miles of trails and offers access to more than 1,100 acres of land. The town and its Conservation Commission update the Greenbelt Plan every seven years. A paper street is a roadway that is labeled on maps for planning purposes but does not exist as an actual roadway.
Council Chairman James Walsh said there would be a public hearing before the council votes on adopting the updated plan, but gave no clear time frame, saying it might be in November, December or January.
Most of Monday’s public comments focused on the proposed trail.
“If there is a public path that goes through my backyard, that would be devastating to me,” said resident Marshall Goldman.
Goldman said he would have liked the Conservation Commission to consult residents of the neighborhood before issuing the new Greenbelt plan.
But the trail had its supporters, too.
“The shoreline paper street was always intended since its inception to be shared by all, not just a select few,” said Connie Pacillo of Reef Road. “This is the last remaining shoreline path. Too often our shoreline is being purchased and privatized to the detriment of all.”
Parking and safety concerns created by the trail are unfounded, Pacillo said.
Four hundred signatures, including 74 from residents of Shore Acres, have been collected in support of adding Surfside Avenue to the Greenbelt, Pacillo said.
But resident Stewart Wooden claimed the petition contains “misleading information regarding ownership of the land, legal issues and anticipated costs.”
“Why spend taxpayers’ dollars to develop a 1,300-foot trail in the backyards of six homes when no trail has ever existed there, neighbors already have waterfront access in their neighborhood, and 85 percent of the town residents feel we have sufficient trails?” Wooden asked.
Commission Chairman Garvan Donegan presented the plan to the council on Monday. He noted that six of the 23 proposed new trails have been prioritized, including additions to the Stonegate/Loveitt Woods and Robinson Woods trails. The Surfside Avenue trail is not among them. He reiterated the commission’s intent to respect private property rights.
Councilor David Sherman suggested the council schedule site visits to see the trail proposed for Shore Acres and other trails. He said the council may want to hold a workshop with the Conservation Commission to understand its rationale for proposing certain trails.
Other councilors discussed the need to possibly seek the advice of attorneys, acknowledging that more questions about the ambiguous legal status of paper streets would likely result.
Nevertheless, the desire for resolution was clear.
“If we don’t push through this issue, it’s going to come up again a year from now, two years from now, 10 years from now,” said Councilor Katharine Ray.