Town approves controversial Pine Point land swap

The Scarborough Town Council Wednesday night approved a controversial land swap at Pine Point despite the concerns of Pine Point residents.

The Council voted 4-3 to approve the swap with the owners of the Lighthouse Inn that would move parking in front of the inn instead of across Depot Street.

The swap gives inn owners Nick and Peter Truman the paved portion of Depot Street in front of their 22-unit condo building/inn for expanded parking and consolidating the inn's parking in front of the building. The town gets the Trumans' current parking strip, which is approximately 22.5 feet long, to possibly create a public drop-off area, eliminating parking for cars on the side of the road.

"It's not a perfect plan, but it's of value to the town," Town Councilor Ron Ahlquist said.

The decision came after 29 Pine Point residents spoke for more than two hours urging the Council to not approve the swap. Most who spoke said the deal was not fair for the town and they didn't want to lose Depot Street, a street that was built in the late 19th Century.

They also worried that public access to the beach at that point would be lost and the Trumans could redevelop Depot Street, blocking the view of the beach.

"I think a mistake has been made," Pine Point resident Judy Shirk said. "I'm so upset right now, I don't even know what I want to say. We're never going to be able to drive down that road again and it's not right and it's not fair."

During the meeting, John Thurlow, a member of the Pine Point Association, presented an alternative plan for a land swap to the Council.

Thurlow's plan would have slid Depot Street southerly and would have moved the parking strip in front of the inn. This would have allowed Depot Street to still exist while also consolidating parking in front of the inn, Thurlow said.

"It gives them a perfect one-on-one swap," Thurlow said. "It's a great benefit to both the town and the landowners."

The Trumans' lawyer Gene Libby of Libby, O'Brien, Kingsley and Champion, said the plan the Council has been considering for the past month made the most sense. Libby presented the detailed-plan to the Council on Wednesday night.

Currently, beach goers walk down Depot Street to the beach. The street places the Trumans' parking on both sides of the street. Cars back into Depot Street as pedestrians walk down the road, which Libby said is a public hazard.

"I was a lobstermen in Pine Point from 1961-1978 and I know the area well," said Libby, who grew up in Blue Point. "The value to the town and residents of the town is that this plan will enhance the beauty of the location and make public access safer."

Town Manager Tom Hall has had several meetings with the Trumans on the issue. Hall said that the land swap deed would be restricted, meaning the Trumans would not be allowed to go ahead with any projects that could damage dune grasses or restrict public access to the beach.

One of the proposed plans following the land swap would create a 22-foot wide strip that would maintain public access to the beach and allow emergency vehicles to still get to the beach, Hall said

"We really feel this is of a greater public benefit to the town," Hall said.

This is not the first time a proposal regarding the inn has upset Pine Point residents.

In 2005 the Trumans discussed with the town turning the motel into seven townhouse condominiums. The Pine Point group opposed the plan and the Trumans agreed to scale the plan back to as few as five condos before later scrapping the plan.

"The association agreed with that plan," Thurlow said.

In 2007, the Trumans planned to turn the hotel into 22 individual condominiums for private sale.

At the time, the Pine Point group argued that the public should have been notified about the motel owners' plans to sell units and that the town should have stepped in to regulate the conversion, according to a 2008 article in the Current.

A 90-page report released in March 2008 by the town's attorney and then-Town Manager Ron Owens said the town staff acted properly in allowing the conversion to condominium ownership.

Pine Point residents also fought to have orange barrels removed from Depot Street and a chicane that replaced the barrels. They said the road was a public way and that a private party placed the barrels there.

Pine Point residents on Wednesday urged the town to table the issue again. They said they wanted the town to consider Thurlow's idea and to consider alternative options before making a decision.

Several residents also asked the Council to consider sending the issue to a citizen's referendum.

"I would ask this council take some more time to come up with a plan to improve public access that really works," said District 127 Rep. Sean Flaherty, who represents Pine Point. "We need to have a better plan before we give up forever our right to this land."

Councilors Carol Rancourt, Karen D'Andrea and Judith Roy, voted against the swap.

All three said they wanted to table the issue and wait to study more Thurlow's plan before making a final decision.

"I need more time, facts and information," Rancourt said. "I don't feel comfortable and I want the time to look at more details."

Ahlquist, however, said that considering additional plans would only delay the issue, but not solve it.

"For me it's always one more committee, one more study," Ahlquist said. "It's a delay tactic. The easy way out is to say 'let's create another committee.' You need to make a decision once in a while."