CAPE ELIZABETH – A divided Town Council voted Monday night to stand behind last month’s pledge of $350,000 to the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, which hopes to buy a property off Shore Road to extend Robinson Woods.

But the frosty relationship between some councilors and the land trust’s leaders was clear. That partnership will be tested further in the weeks ahead — the council and the land trust promised to continue negotiating a dispute over the soon-to-be-built Shore Road Path.

“We’re obviously pleased that the council did not reconsider its pledge,” land trust President Ted Darling said after the meeting. “If councilors bring another proposal to the board, we’ll discuss it.”

On June 13, councilors voted unanimously to give the land trust $350,000 — about one-third of the purchase price — to help with the planned acquisition of Robinson Woods II. In return, the town would receive a public access easement and would be closer to its goal of a cross-town greenbelt.

Led by Anne Swift-Kayatta, councilors also asked the land trust’s leaders to meet with town officials. She wanted to reopen a discussion about the possibility of the Shore Road Path crossing through part of the original Robinson Woods property, an 80-acre parcel purchased by the land trust in 2003.

The path would go no more than 30 feet into Robinson Woods, Swift-Kayatta said, but routing it slightly 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.

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Leaders of the land trust turned down that request in 2009, and after meeting with town officials twice in late June, they came to the same conclusion. Darling and land trust Executive Director Chris Franklin say they must honor the conservation easement for Robinson Woods, and the Shore Road Path would not be compatible with the easement.

Construction on the $1 million path, funded largely by a state transportation grant, is scheduled to begin next year.

Swift-Kayatta, along with Councilors James Walsh, Jessica Sullivan and Caitlin Jordan, requested that the $350,000 pledge be put back on the agenda for reconsideration at Monday night’s council meeting.

After 15 minutes of public input and about 45 minutes of discussion among councilors, a vote was held.

Swift-Kayatta, Walsh and Sullivan voted to reconsider the $350,000 pledge. Councilors David Sherman, Frank Governali and Jordan voted not to reconsider. Sara Lennon was absent.

The 3-3 tie meant the vote from last month, which approved the $350,000 expenditure, stands.

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Jordan’s proved to be the crucial vote. She said her family has land preserved through the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust, and she would want the leaders of the trust to honor the intent of her family members.

“I commend them for holding firm,” she said.

Swift-Kayatta and Walsh had some harsh words for Darling and Franklin, questioning whether they were serious about the land trust’s partnership with the town and its commitment to public access. Swift-Kayatta said it is appropriate to ask the land trust for additional cooperation when the town is investing a large amount of taxpayers’ money.

She said several lawyers have informally reviewed the easement on the Robinson Woods property, and have agreed that the Shore Road Path would be compatible. She said Darling and Franklin “have continued to rely on a flawed claim” and their views fall into the category of “overly narrow” and “unduly dogmatic.”

Sherman, the council chair, said councilors approved the $350,000 pledge last month without that being contingent on any concessions by the land trust, and it wasn’t fair to change course and demand a reversal on the Shore Road Path decision.

Sherman noted that one of the town’s priorities is the preservation of open space. Robinson Woods II is the last significant missing piece of a crosstown trail, to link Fort Williams in the north to Kettle Cove and Crescent Beach State Park in the south, via town center and Great Pond.

“We are helping this organization do something terrific for this town; to me that sounds like a pretty good partnership,” Sherman said. He wants to continue the discussion with the land trust about a possible compromise.

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]

 


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