CAPE ELIZABETH — Town officials should fight for public access to the rocky shore in front of several multimillion-dollar waterfront homes whose owners last week filed a lawsuit against the town.

That was the opinion of the vast majority of residents who attended a town-hosted public forum Thursday night that was intended to bring some clarity to a heated community conflict over so-called paper streets in the Shore Acres neighborhood on Broad Cove.

Atlantic Way and a section of Surf Side Avenue are paper streets that appeared on the 1911 plan for the Shore Acres subdivision but were never built.

Forty-one residents participated in the first of two facilitated meetings scheduled to help town councilors gauge whether they should accept, vacate or continue to extend the town’s right to decide whether Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Way should become public ways.

The second meeting will be held Saturday at 10 a.m., again in the community room at the Town Center Fire Station.

For 32 meeting participants, accepting the paper streets would be the best way to end the conflict, increase public shoreline access and prevent the creation of a closed-off enclave of wealthy people.

“We all deserve access,” said Lisa Derman, a town resident who regularly walks with friends who live in Shore Acres.

Gathered in a separate group, four residents said they want the council to continue to extend the town’s right to accept or vacate the paper streets.

“It (will) give the town time to think of what’s best for future generations,” said Priscilla Armstrong, a Shore Acres resident.

Five residents said the town should vacate its right to create public ways on the paper streets because it would preserve the backyard privacy and security of the waterfront homeowners. They also said there’s plenty of shoreline access elsewhere in town.

“This meeting isn’t representative of most Cape residents’ view on this issue,” said Mitch Lench, who lives near Two Lights State Park.

The town hired Good Group Decisions of Brunswick to facilitate the sessions for $2,500. All town residents were invited. A report on the sessions is due in March.

Sifting through the participants’ comments, the facilitators found that they shared common interests in peace and harmony, longterm stability, shoreline access and safety.

Last week, several residents who live on the water side of Pilot Point Road filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that they own the undeveloped portion of Surf Side Avenue that runs along the rocky shore between their homes and Broad Cove.

The plaintiffs are Imad and Hulda Khalidi, David and Kara Leopold, Andrew Sommer and Susan Ross, Stewart and Julie Wooden, and Rock Dam Development LLC. The limited liability company held by members of Jay Chatmas’ family owns a half-acre lot on Pilot Point Road that’s listed for $1 million on a Coldwell Banker website.

The property owners claim the town’s right to establish a public way on that section of Surf Side Avenue has lapsed because they were allowed to encroach on the undeveloped street and “(exhibit) ownership in a manner inconsistent with a public way for a period exceeding twenty years.”

The complaint notes that the abutters have incorporated the paper street into their backyards, installing a wooden deck, a brick patio, a fenced-in garden, an established hedgerow, an irrigation system, stairways, lighting, stone landscaping and fencing.

Under Maine law, landowners can lose property rights if another person uses their land for at least 20 years uninterrupted. However, this legal doctrine, known as adverse possession, is widely understood to be ineffective in claiming ownership of government land.

None of the plaintiffs appeared to be at Thursday’s meeting.

“We’re not here to discuss any of that tonight,” Town Council Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan told the participants. “All of your input is still relevant.”

The council decided in October 2016 to extend the town’s right to accept the paper streets for an additional 20 years, but the abutters and some of their neighbors wanted the council to take immediate action.

The council revisited the issue last fall, voting unanimously to again delay a decision until 2036 and hire a facilitator to help the neighborhood work through its concerns and inform future council actions.

The town’s Conservation Committee 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.

A petition signed by 1,220 residents asks councilors to accept the paper streets “so they will be protected forever and for all Cape citizens to enjoy.”

The general public currently doesn’t have the legal right to be on the paper streets but many Shore Acres residents have deeded rights to the waterfront.

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

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Twitter: KelleyBouchard

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