SACO — Paper streets exist in many Maine communities — streets that have been laid out on a subdivision plan and approved by municipal authorities like a planning board, and recorded at a county registry of deeds, but are never actually built and accepted by the city.

Saco has many, city solicitor Tim Murphy told the Saco City Council at a recent meeting.

“We have paper streets in all wards in the city,” said Murphy, noting most are in north Saco or near the waterfront.

In a 2017 report, city officials at that time noted that of the 87 paper streets identified in 1997, about half had been dealt with — discontinued, abandoned or completed and accepted as a city street.

Paper streets do not exist, except on paper, and the property is not owned by the city but by the abutting landowners.

“Abutters don’t always know they own it, the city hasn’t always uniformly taxed them, and members of the public may think they have a right to travel over the paper streets — usually on foot — and think it is the city’s (property),” said Murphy.


Landowners sometimes plant shrubbery there — and some built more permanent structures like a garage — a risk to the landowner if the street was ever built, he noted.

This year, the abutters, who own to the middle of the paper street, are being taxed for that property.

“This is new in the past year,” said City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath in an email. “This land was not being taxed through its history of I’m guessing plus or minus 100 years.”

The Maine Legislature more than 30 years ago recognized there were hundreds of paper streets all over the state and were becoming difficult to monitor, and so approved a law that gave municipalities 20 years to decide what to do with them. Murphy noted former Economic Development Director Peter Morelli was tasked with listing all the paper streets in the city. Initial determinations were made on which ones to eliminate.

He said the city does have a right to accept a paper street and take title to the property, but pointed out that in most cases, the municipality waits for a developer to do so because of the costs associated with street construction.

Mayor William Doyle said the city had reserved its right to decide the fate of the paper streets until 2037.


Councilor Nathan Johnston said he recalled the 2017 examination of the city’s paper streets.

“The goal was we would take up a few a year,” he said, and make decisions. Johnston said he believes most of the paper streets are not needed.

“If there is no plan to use something that doesn’t even exist, why wait until 2037 when we can be proactive?” asked Councilor Joe Gunn.

Councilor Jim Purdy asked for a list of the paper streets.

The matter may resurface at a subsequent city council meeting.

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