Residents of a neighborhood at Trundy Point in Cape Elizabeth are at odds over the Town Council’s plan to give up rights to a 943-foot oceanfront paper street because some of the neighbors oppose public access to the road.

A divided council voted Tuesday in favor of moving toward vacating the town’s rights to Surfside Avenue and nearby Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road, despite a recommendation from the Conservation Committee to retain the rights to Surfside Avenue and Atlantic Place because a public walking path could potentially be built there in the future.

The two paper streets are in the Shore Acres neighborhood off Old Ocean House Road. The assessed value of homes in that neighborhood along Surfside and Algonquin Road Extension range from about $700,000 to $1.3 million, according to town records.

Cape Elizabeth councilors voted 4-3 to move toward vacating the town’s rights to turn Surfside Avenue into public path. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Tuesday’s vote came after years of discussion about Cape Elizabeth’s paper streets and the potential of using Surfside Avenue as a public shoreline path as part of the Greenbelt trail system.

Paper streets are proposed roads that are shown in subdivision plans but were never built. Once the subdivision plan is recorded in the registry of deeds, the public acquires a right of “incipient dedication,” meaning the town has the right to accept the paper street as a town way once it is built.

Many towns, including Cape Elizabeth, took advantage of a 20-year extension of those rights in 1997 and must review them by September. The town can either extend its rights to the paper streets for another 20 years, accept them as public ways or vacate the town’s rights entirely.

Some residents of the 150-home neighborhood have been asking the town to give up its right to accept Surfside Avenue as a public way. But others who have pushed for a public walking path for years were caught off guard when the Town Council took action on the issue last week when it accepted a report on the feasibility of constructing the path.

Henry Barksdale, who lives in the neighborhood, said Friday that he and many neighbors plan to attend a future public hearing to talk to individual councilors about the residents’ opposition to vacating the paper streets.

“We don’t understand where it came from,” he said of the vote to start the process to vacate the streets. “It blindsided all of us.”

Surfside Avenue is currently used by walkers and joggers near several oceanfront homes at Trundy Point. A gravel section of Surfside is marked with “private road” signs put up by residents to stop people in cars from going down the narrow path.

Both councilors and residents described Shore Acres as a neighborhood split by the ongoing debate over whether a path should be built on Surfside Avenue.

During a tense discussion before the council last week, several residents objected to any increased public access and persuaded the council to instead consider vacating the street, forfeiting the town’s rights to use it as a public way. But other residents spoke in favor of a shoreline path and said the majority of their neighbors actually want the town to retain its rights.

The move to vacate didn’t sit well with all the councilors, including one who said residents yelled at her to leave when she walked along Surfside Avenue.

“I think the council has to be aware that their job is to protect the town’s assets, not to protect the assets of individuals, family or friends,” Councilor Katharine Ray said after describing one resident who told her she was on private property on Surfside Avenue, before Ray identified herself as a town councilor.

Some residents worry about an influx of cars and people if Surfside Avenue is turned into a public path, but others say the town has a unique opportunity to install a shoreline path. Staff photo by Jill Brady

Ray, council Chairman James Garvin and Councilor Jessica Sullivan said they were surprised by the motion to vacate the streets without first holding a workshop to review the path feasibility report and the Conservation Committee’s recommendation.

Councilor Sara Lennon, however, said the debate has gone on far too long and the council owes the neighborhood a decision. She said vacating the paper street was consistent with council efforts in the past to allow residents to enjoy their properties and neighborhoods, such as limiting short-term rentals and bed and breakfasts, and adopting sound ordinances.

“This council has a history of ensuring people’s ability to live well and peacefully in their houses, which is usually the greatest investment they’ve made. I think vacating this (road) falls in line with that,” Lennon said.

Resident Andrea Adams spoke at the meeting on behalf of the Ocean View Association, which has seven members who live along the gravel portion of Surfside and on Algonquin Road Extension. She said the town should vacate the 943-foot stretch of road that it has never shown an interest in until recently.

“The town has never set foot on that road. They’ve never paved it, they’ve never wanted it,” she said. “We’ve filled potholes. We fixed it.”

Some residents said they worry about an influx of cars and people if a public path is built, as well as the effect a path would have on their neighborhood and the safety of their children. They also raised concerns about the negative effect on their property values of a walking path close to houses.

Several other residents of the area disagreed, saying the town had a unique opportunity to install a walking path along the rocky shoreline.

“It’s a shoreline path and a gem of an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often,” said Deborah Murphy, who lives on Pilot Point Road in the Shore Acres neighborhood.

In the past year, the council has reviewed Cape Elizabeth’s 57 paper streets. The town has accepted 19 paper streets, extended rights for 32 others and vacated the rights to seven.

Last October, the council voted to extend the rights to Surfside and Atlantic Place for another 20 years and asked for a study of the feasibility of making those streets part of the town’s Greenbelt trail system.

The report from Sebago Technics was given to the council last week, along with the Conservation Committee’s recommendation to retain the rights. The committee does not have any immediate plans to install a path there, but that could be done in the future if the town retains its rights to the paper street, committee Chairman Jim Tasse told councilors.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of starting the process to vacate the streets, with Ray, Sullivan and Garvin in opposition.

Town Manager Matthew Sturgis said he will work with the town attorney to lay out the step-by-step process the town must follow to vacate the streets. That process will include a public hearing, public meetings and further council votes.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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