CAPE ELIZABETH — Four candidates vying for two Town Council seats on Nov. 7 offer contrasting opinions on the current controversy over waterfront paper streets in the Shore Acres and Two Lights neighborhoods.

Town government newcomers Peter McCarthy and Valerie Randall are competing against Christopher Straw, a former member of the Board of Zoning Appeals, and James Tasse, who is chairman of the Conservation Committee.

Mohammed Shir and Hope Straw are running unopposed for two seats on the School Board. Residents may vote now through Nov. 2 at Town Hall during regular office hours or on Election Day at Cape Elizabeth High School from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The council is wrestling again with the question of formally vacating or accepting three paper streets that appeared on approved or registered plans but haven’t been built or completed. The paper streets are Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place in Shore Acres and Lighthouse Point Road near The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, a popular seafood restaurant.

Both locations are controversial because they’re in residential neighborhoods where townspeople are at odds over increasing or preserving public access to the waterfront and related issues such as traffic and parking. Hundreds of townspeople have signed a petition calling for the council to “accept these paper streets … so they will be protected forever and for all Cape citizens to enjoy.”

The council decided a year ago to extend the town’s right to accept the paper streets for an additional 20 years – the last 20-year delay allowed under Maine’s Paper Streets Act of 1987. Councilor Caitlyn Jordan resurrected the issue in July, dividing councilors and sparking townwide debate over whether they should finally accept or vacate the paper streets rather than “kick the can down the road.”

The council recently sought further legal advice from the town’s attorney, and it’s expected to discuss the matter at an Oct. 30 workshop and possibly take action on Nov. 6. Several councilors have predicted that the town will be sued no matter what they do. Or the matter could be left unresolved for the next group of councilors and plague the town for years to come.

The Conservation Committee has identified Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place as potential trails in the town’s 2013 Greenbelt Plan, but it has no plans to install a trail there at this time. The committee hasn’t recommended that a trail be constructed at Lighthouse Point Road, but it does support the preservation of the town’s rights to the paper streets.

Tasse, the committee’s chairman, has an opinion about the paper streets issue that’s a bit stronger than the committee’s recommendation. He supports increasing public access to the waterfront and said the council should fully accept the paper streets or at least preserve the town’s right to accept them through 2017. He noted that the 2,000-foot-long paper street along the Shore Acres waterfront could be worth as much as $2 million.

“We don’t just give away $2 million,” said Tasse, 54, a nonprofit executive. “The town should not vacate either location. If they choose to keep the right, it’s a long game. You never know what’s going to happen in 10 or 20 years. We’ve got greenbelt trails all over town and it’s not an issue. People walk in front of people’s houses all the time on trails that are called sidewalks.”

Straw, 41, agrees with Tasse. Straw is a law firm data analyst who is a member of the Fort Williams Park Committee and a former board member of the Fort Williams Park Foundation.

“I don’t believe we should ever be abandoning rights of way, especially waterfront land,” Straw said. “The council has an obligation to protect town assets.”

Randall, 33, a criminal defense lawyer, said she believes the Shore Acres and Two Lights issues should be considered separately. She said she understands residents’ concerns about incorporating the paper streets into the town’s greenbelt trail network, but she supports the preservation of public access and open space.

“I don’t support the town vacating the paper streets,” Randall said. “I think they’re a valuable town asset. I value public access and open space. I don’t want to see these areas privatized. I don’t see the rush. I think we should hang onto (the paper streets) for now.”

McCarthy, 76, a retired Bell System executive who lives near Lighthouse Point Road, said he believes the council should vacate the paper street there in favor of providing public access at the end of Two Lights Road. He said the council should extend the town’s right to accept the paper streets in Shore Acres and remove them from the 2013 Greenbelt Plan.

“The Town Council is progressing in the right direction,” McCarthy said. “It’s common sense.”

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

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