CAPE ELIZABETH — Town councilors heard two hours of spirited public comment Monday night about a proposed agreement between the town and a group of waterfront residents over access to an undeveloped section of Surf Side Avenue.

As part of a mediated court settlement announced last month, the town would agree to release “any right, title or interest it may have in Surf Side Avenue,” or the strip of land along the shore, thereby blocking it from any future development.

In exchange, the plaintiffs – Imad and Hulda Khalidi, David and Kara Leopold, Andrew Sommer and Susan Ross, Stewart and Julie Wooden, and Pilot Point LLC – would drop all legal action and pay the town $500,000. That money would be deposited in the town’s land acquisition fund to be used to purchase and preserve public land in the future.

The council is expected to hold a special meeting next week to vote on the agreement.

Durward Parkinson, an attorney for the town, said Monday he understands that not everyone will be happy, but he stressed that it is the best deal for the town.

“We believe … well, it’s an imperfect world … but this does a lot to bring closure,” he said.

Some residents urged the council to accept the agreement and put the long, contentious battle to rest.

Many others who spoke at Monday’s council meeting, though, pledged to continue fighting and worried that the deal effectively means the town can be bought.

“If we have to sue, we will sue,” warned Paul Moson, speaking on behalf of the hundreds of people who have signed a petition to preserve the land as a public way. The group includes several non-waterfront residents of the 115-home Shores Acres subdivision.

Some urged the council to hold off on signing the agreement pending a townwide referendum on the issue.

The plaintiffs, who own multimillion-dollar homes overlooking Broad Cove, had sued the town in January, claiming that they – not the town – collectively owned the so-called paper street, an undeveloped 800-foot portion of Surf Side Avenue that runs along the edge of Shore Acres. Under the proposed agreement, the property owners would own the land and be required to pay taxes on it.

Mary Ann Lynch, a former councilor, disagreed with Parkinson that the agreement was a good deal and said the town should defend the lawsuit.

“As a taxpayer, some things are worth fighting for,” she said, adding that the deal could create a bad precedent that might encourage others to sue the town.

Jan Trundy said the town was “being held hostage by five wealthy landowners.”

“Why are their interests more important than the rest of the town?” she asked.

Others who spoke Monday, though, urged the council to accept the deal and end the long fight.

“Owners have worked with you to resolve this problem. Now work with them,” Heather Pounds said.

The agreement does not affect existing public access on Surf Side Avenue, only to the paper street.

Inland residents of Shore Acres had for decades enjoyed the deeded right to hike along Broad Cove. However, some newer residents with waterfront property have indicated in recent years that they want to stop the town from extending that right to the general public. The dispute has been simmering since the town’s Conservation Committee identified Surf Side Avenue as a potential trail in the town’s 2013 Greenbelt Plan.

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

At a packed meeting in November, the council was scheduled to either vacate, accept or continue to extend the town’s right to accept the paper streets. Councilors heard lengthy testimony from residents and tossed around several options, such as holding a nonbinding referendum and seeking an easement from the abutters before vacating the paper streets.

Finally, the council voted unanimously to extend the town’s right to accept paper streets until 2036 and hire a facilitator to help the neighborhood work through its concerns and inform future council actions.

However, the landowners did not express a willingness to participate in that discussion and opted to sue instead and let a judge decide.

David Soley, a Portland attorney representing one of the plaintiffs, said Monday that the town council has shown “tremendous professionalism” throughout the process.

“It’s a fair deal,” he said. “Nobody was in love with the deal. It was, in fact, a compromise.”

Jamie Wagner, a resident with many friends on both sides of the issue and also an attorney who said he reviewed the agreement closely, called it a win-win.

“It might not feel that way to some, but if this case stays in court, it will drag on for several years,” he said.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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