CAPE ELIZABETH — Town Hall was full of warm feelings June 13 as the Town Council voted unanimously to spend $350,000 to help the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust buy a 63-acre parcel off Shore Road for permanent conservation.

Don’t expect the mood to be so congenial at the council’s meeting Monday night.

Four of the seven councilors, led by Anne Swift-Kayatta, have put the item back on the agenda. The reconsideration is tied to a longstanding dispute over the planned Shore Road Path, which will connect Fort Williams with the town center.

In 2008, the Shore Road Path Committee asked if the path could go through the land trust’s Robinson Woods property. Pushing the path into Robinson Woods and away from Shore Road would save the town as much as $100,000; ledge would not have to be blasted, and a dozen trees would be saved.

The land trust’s leaders denied the request. They said they were required to honor the conservation easement for Robinson Woods, and the Shore Road Path would not be a compatible use.

The issue resurfaced this spring as the land trust negotiated an option to buy Robinson Woods II, a 63-acre parcel next to the original property.

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The land trust asked the town to contribute $350,000 toward the $1.1 million purchase price. In exchange, the town would get public access, just like the arrangement at Robinson Woods.

Councilors agreed to spend the money, but they also supported an amendment proposed by Swift-Kayatta.

She asked the land trust’s leaders to reconsider their stance on the Shore Road Path, and to discuss it with town officials.

Construction of the path is scheduled to begin next year, with most of the funding coming from a $729,000 state grant, and $100,000 from a citizens group.

In talks with town officials June 20 and June 30, land trust board President Ted Darling and Executive Director Chris Franklin made it clear that the trust’s decision was firm.

“There has been no fact change with the request to revisit it,” Darling said Friday.

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He said the conservation easement honors the intent of the late John Robinson and his family. Darling quoted the easement as he explained the land trust’s position.

“We determined that the essence of what the Shore Road pathway was, a connector from Fort Williams to the town center, that it didn’t enhance the conservation values of the property, nor did it further the idea of ‘quiet contemplation and reverence for the natural world.’”

Robinson Woods is closed to the public at sunset, while the Shore Road Path will be open at all times, Darling said. Also, the path will allow for some motorized vehicles – including snow-removal equipment – which are prohibited in Robinson Woods.

“It raises some problems in terms of managing the property, which is our responsibility,” Darling said.

“Our job as a land conservation organization is to make sure we are protecting the properties that we are entrusted with,” he said. “If we were to backpedal at this time and change course, what message does that send to the community about the credibility of our organization?”

Swift-Kayatta said she is disappointed by the land trust leaders’ position. Before rejecting the council’s request, she said, they should have asked for guidance from the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which holds the conservation easement for the Robinson Woods property.

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At the heart of the matter, the land trust’s interpretation of the easement is too conservative, Swift-Kayatta said.

“The easement does not preclude the land trust from agreeing. They just don’t want to do it,” she said.

“Insisting on getting something in return for $350,000 of taxpayer money is not unreasonable,” Swift-Kayatta said. “This is about saving Cape Elizabeth citizens some beautiful trees and almost $100,000.”

Council Chairman David Sherman said he was surprised that a majority of the council asked for reconsideration of the Robinson Woods II pledge.

“I don’t like the idea of saying, ‘If you don’t do what we want on the pathway, we’re not going to help on the acquisition of this other property.’ It puts the land trust in an impossible position,” Sherman said.

“The easement seemed, to me, to allow a pathway, but I’m prepared to respect their decision and to move on,” said Sherman, who is a lawyer.

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Darling said the land trust’s interpretation of the easement must be conservative, because that approach allows the organization to gain and keep the trust of families that sell land.

If the land trust had relaxed its interpretation and allowed for the Shore Road Path, “we wouldn’t be having a discussion about Robinson Woods II,” Darling said.

The land trust will need support from private and public sources to raise the $1.1 million for Robinson Woods II.

The town’s $350,000 would be the first major pledge. Darling wasn’t ready to discuss the future of the purchase, should the council decline to contribute

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. We hope that reason and fair play prevail here,” he said.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:

[email protected]


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