News icon




Professional facilitator hired to conduct public forums on controversial paper streets

The town has hired a professional facilitator to help the Town Council reach a decision on the future of Surf Side Avenue, Altantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road - three "paper streets" that appear on subdivision plans but have yet to be accepted as public ways.

The Town Council on Dec. 11, 2017 authorized the town manager to enter into an agreement with Good Group Decisions of Brunswick, paid for with $2,506 from the special committees fund.

Good Group Decisions will facilitate two, 90-minute-to-2-hour sessions where town residents will sort out areas of agreement, disagreement and possible areas of negotiation as the Town Council decides whether the streets should be vacated or accepted for public use.

The sessions are tentatively scheduled for early February, one on a mid-weekday and the other the following Saturday, said Town Manager Matthew Sturgis. "And this session would be open to entire community. As many people (have) stated, that this is a townwide issue."

Prompted by state legislation, the council in October 2016 voted to vacate its rights in seven of the town's 58 paper streets; to accept 19 of them for specific purposes such as trail access; and, to keep 32 of them as paper streets for the next 20 years. By extending the paper streets, the town keeps the right to one day accept them for public use.

The 2016 vote also sanctioned a study on the feasibility of greenbelt trails on the three most controversial paper streets - Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place in Shore Acres; and Lighthouse Point Road in the Two Lights Terrace subdivision. Councilors were poised to accept that report in July, but instead voted 4-3 to begin the process of vacating the streets. The following month they rescinded that vote and have been discussing in workshops and executive sessions how best to resolve the conflicts.

In November they directed Sturgis to explore options for a paid facilitator.

Good Group Decisions is proposing to plan, moderate and offer a complete report on the two public sessions. In preparation, the council will likely hold a workshop with the facilitators to provide direction and advise them of expected outcomes.

Sturgis said that some residents who have been vocal about the paper streets have said they are not interested in participating. "This is concerning in that it is in contrast to the goal of having all interested parties represented. However the desire would be to provide that venue where folks could have the opportunity to pursue that if they did want to," he said.

The facilitators will provide a structure for the forums, encourage participation, reflect the group's positions and move the discussion forward. Key findings, themes and conclusions will be recorded and reported. "They do fairly a dynamic approach to it, I've seen this company in action before where they will take different concepts that come forward and kind of organize them and get them collated fairly quickly and then provide the 'deliverable' to the council," Sturgis said.

The results are expected by March 2018.

During a public comment period, Trundy Road resident Sheila Mayberry said the facilitation proposal differs from mediation. "If there are stakeholders who are not voluntarily willing to come to the table and negotiate something in good faith, and come out with a written agreement that is legally binding, then you don't have a mediation. This is something different," Mayberry said.

Council Chair Jessica Sullivan agreed. "There aren't going to be any decisions made, something binding," she said. "This is purely gathering information and thoughts and concepts that can come back to the council for consideration."