CAPE ELIZABETH — A sliver of land on the rocky shore of Trundy Point, with captivating views of Broad Cove and the churning Atlantic beyond, has divided one of the town’s most exclusive neighborhoods and pushed some residents to consider selling their homes.

Hostilities sprang from the possibility that the town might develop a recreational trail on the craggy, 2,000-foot-long strip and invite the general public to hike past a few multimillion-dollar homes. Neighborhood infighting has provoked shouting matches, harassment complaints, lawsuits and a petition signed by more than 600 townspeople who want to preserve increasingly precious public access to the waterfront.

The conflict landed in the Town Council’s laps in July, fostering harsh words and hard feelings among its seven members and putting Cape Elizabeth in a league with waterfront communities across Maine. Starting Monday night, the councilors face the challenge of working out a solution to a complex problem that could leave many people unhappy, no matter what they do.

Imad Khalidi is a waterfront property owner who is fighting the potential creation of a greenbelt trail and urging the council to vacate the town’s claim to the strip of land in front of his house. A prominent businessman and donor to local causes, Khalidi says he and his wife will sell the house they bought 10 years ago to escape the controversy.

Imad Khalidi, at his home that overlooks Surf Side Avenue, says he and his wife will sell the house they bought 10 years ago to escape the current controversy. Staff photo by Jill Brady

“We don’t want the stress,” Khalidi said last week. “When neighbors hate each other, how could we live here? I was very friendly with my neighbors before this happened. Now it’s so divided, you have no idea how bad it is. There is so much hatred.”

PAPER STREET FIGHT

The dispute centers on a section of a paper street, Surf Side Avenue, that was planned in 1911 as part of the Shore Acres subdivision but never completed or formally accepted by the town. Today, it’s a rustic, tough-to-access right of way that runs along the ocean, in front of Khalidi’s house and five other waterfront homes on Pilot Point Road that are valued at $1 million to $2 million each.


For decades, residents of 115 more modest homes in the neighborhood, away from the water’s edge, have enjoyed deeded rights to hike along the shore, hear the crashing surf and otherwise enjoy panoramic ocean views that their waterfront neighbors can see plainly from their windows.

Neighborly feelings started to fade in the last decade or so, as the six waterfront properties were sold and new owners expanded or replaced smaller homes with sprawling seaside estates that diminished easy coastal access and water views for their landlocked neighbors.

Then, in 2013, the Conservation Committee included Surf Side Avenue as No. 23 on an updated list of potential trails that could be developed as part of the town’s clearly mapped and publicly promoted Greenbelt Trail network. Though last on the list, it set off alarm bells for the waterfront homeowners along Surf Side Avenue and sparked a variety of conflicts over neighborhood access.

“After that, things that we’d done for years became an issue and people started to make us feel very uncomfortable,” said Jeff Monroe, a shipping consultant and Anglican priest who has lived on Katahdin Road, near Pilot Point Road, for 38 years.

“We have a deeded right of way to the waterfront,” Monroe said. “They’re trying to get land for free and restrict public access. It’s not like there’s a parade of people going by. And it’s only gotten more hostile.”

Neighborhood tensions were apparent last week when Monroe tried to show a reporter how to get to the undeveloped section of Surf Side Avenue. When he stepped into the side yard of the house at 17 Pilot Point Road, which overlooks one end of the paper street, a woman in the house stuck her head out of a window, announced that it was private property and told Monroe and the reporter to leave.

SEEKING PERMANENT PROTECTION

Monroe and his wife are among 38 homeowners in the Shore Acres subdivision who won a 2015 lawsuit to protect their deeded rights to the waterfront. Khalidi and another waterfront homeowner had filed notices with the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds in 2014, aiming to extinguish any interests that other homeowners had in Atlantic Place, a short segment of Surf Side Avenue that was renamed around 1999, according to court documents.

Atlantic Place runs from Pilot Point Road – between Khalidi’s home and the house at 17 Pilot Point Road – to what is now the western end of Surf Side Avenue. The only other neighborhood access to the undeveloped section of Surf Side Avenue is near its eastern end, where the paper street becomes a gravel road that serves several homes set back from the waterfront.

Monroe and other Shore Acres residents say the only permanent solution is for the Town Council to formally accept Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place as public ways and eventually make them part of the Greenbelt Trail network. More than 600 townspeople agree, having signed a petition last month urging councilors to “accept these paper streets … so that they will be protected forever and for all Cape Elizabeth citizens to enjoy.”

Deborah Murphy, who lives on the landlocked side of Pilot Point Road, also hopes the council decides to accept the paper streets. However, she believes the town can take action to make the shore path a public way without developing it into a full-fledged greenbelt trail.

It’s the right thing to do, she says, since the waterfront homeowners get a 5 percent property tax discount on their land because Surf Side Avenue runs between their parcels and the water.

“The citizens of Cape Elizabeth can use the right of way if the town accepts it,” Murphy said. “The town has been giving (the waterfront homeowners) a discount. The townspeople have been subsidizing their tax bills. The townspeople should be able to use that path.”

For other townspeople, the solution isn’t so simple. Some agree with Khalidi and his waterfront neighbors, who want the town to vacate its claim to Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place and prevent them from being added to the Greenbelt Trail network.

They say the neighborhood can’t handle the added traffic, parking, environmental impacts and security issues that would result if the town invited the general public to visit the area. Khalidi says only residents of Shore Acres who can prove they have deeded rights should be allowed to walk along the shore past his house.

TOWN COUNCIL SQUABBLE

The Town Council decided last October to extend the municipality’s claims to Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place for another 20 years. The Conservation Committee issued a memo in June, reaffirming a previous recommendation that the town maintain its rights to the paper streets and saying that the committee “has no plans to install (a Greenbelt Trail) at this time, but would support trail construction in the future.”

In July, four councilors, led by Councilor Caitlin Jordan, upset many townspeople when they voted to begin the process of vacating the town’s rights without posting the potential action on the meeting agenda. Emails flooded Town Hall, including a letter signed by eight former council leaders, who called for “an open and transparent process, with proper public notice, as you consider the paper street issue.”

The three councilors who voted against vacating the town’s claims to Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place were surprised by the sudden shift, especially Councilor Jessica Sullivan, who referred to the “F-Uped Four” in an email to a constituent. Sullivan was relieved in August when the council voted unanimously to reinstate a 20-year extension of the town’s rights, but she still has reservations.

Access to the coast along this area of Broad Cove in Cape Elizabeth has divided neighbors for years. There are two paper streets in the neighborhood, Atlantic Place and Surf Side Avenue, that are public right of ways to the shore. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

“It was very upsetting,” Sullivan said last week. “I’m glad the other councilors reversed their votes because we need to have transparency. But this is a town asset. The town has had the right to that land since 1911. Maintaining coastal access is getting tougher and tougher, and it’s an issue everywhere. Why would we give that up?”

Jordan denies speculation that she’s in cahoots with the waterfront homeowners, some of whom delivered prepared statements at the July meeting. She says she hoped to resolve the conflict and protect the neighborhood from being flooded with Greenbelt Trail users.

“I just wanted to make sure there was no trail put up there,” Jordan said last week. “At the time, I thought the best way was to vacate the paper street. When we extended the town’s claim for 20 years, we extended the neighborhood controversy for 20 years. If we vacate the paper street, the neighborhood gets to continue to use it, but the rest of the world doesn’t.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

[email protected]