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Council reconsiders, votes down motion to begin paper-street vacation

The Town Council on Aug. 14, 2017 reconsidered and unanimously turned down a motion to begin vacating rights in three paper streets in town, reversing a 4-3 decision made by the council in July.

Councilors voted to reconsider their July 10 decision to begin the process of vacating rights in Surf Side Avenue and Atlantic Place in Shore Acres; and in Lighthouse Point Road near Two Lights. They then unanimously voted the motion down, and scheduled a workshop for Sept. 6 to review feasibility studies for creating greenbelt trails in the areas with the Conservation Committee.

Paper streets are streets that appear on subdivision plans, but were never accepted by the town or constructed as public ways. The town however has rights to accept them in the future, and in October 2016 the council voted to extend those rights in 32 of the town's 58 paper streets. [news article]

For the three most controversial paper streets, the council in October directed the Conservation Committee to review the suitability of installing greenbelt trails there.

At their July 10 meeting the council was poised to accept the Conservation Committee's report, but at the same time Councilor Caitlin Jordan moved that the council take steps necessary to begin vacating the town's rights in the Surf Side Avenue, Atlantic Place and Lighthouse Point Road paper streets. The vote was 4-3, supported by Jordan and councilors Patty Grennon, Sara Lennon and Penny Jordan.

The surprise aspect of the motion was one reason Penny Jordan gave for asking the council to reconsider. "It appeared that some members of the council were caught a bit off guard," Jordan said. "It also did not let the wider public know we that we contemplated doing anything other than receiving a report."

"First and foremost I regret my July vote and therefore I'm asking that we bring the motion forward from July 10 ... for reconsideration," Jordan said.

Caitlin Jordan also apologized, but defended the motion. "The issue relating to paper streets was on the agenda, I made a motion that dealt with paper streets, a motion drafted by the town attorney word-for-word. I will apologize if some view that this was not having been given notice, I did not see it that way when making the motion."

She said she made the motion because she believed that vacation was the best way to keep greenbelt trails from being developed on the paper streets, but, "I am in full support of Councilor (Penny) Jordan's reconsideration of this vote in hopes that it moves the discussion through the process so that we can become better enlightened to new creative options."

Penny Jordan also said she is cautious about trails and does not support them near people's homes, but hoped to separate the paper street issue from the greenbelt controversy. "Taking away public land and public rights is not in the public's best interest," she said. "I recognize the angst of the abutters but I believe we need to deal with paper streets and the decision around retaining those rights separately from our decisions around trails and greenbelt issues."

The Surf Side Avenue paper street includes a gravel private road that serves five lots.

Sixteen residents spoke from a standing-room only crowd at Town Hall Aug. 14, all encouraging - and many thanking councilors for - a decision to reconsider. Some residents of Two Lights who favored vacation of Lighthouse Point Road asked if the decision on that paper street might be considered separately from those in Shore Acres.

Councilor Sara Lennon encouraged residents to offer creative ideas for resolution. "We've learned a difficult lesson and I really truly believe that if we can move forward from now in the spirit of problem-solving, together we will come up with a great solution that may be on some level a compromise, maybe not, but I truly believe that all parties will be happy enough," she said.