A proposal to conserve the city-owned former tenting area at Carrying Place Cove generated considerable discussion at the November 13 meeting of the Eastport City Council, with some arguing that the plan would preserve public access to the property and the water for future generations and others maintaining that selling the property would help the city with its budget woes. Following the hour-long discussion with over 60 people in attendance, the council approved setting up a conservation easement on the four-acre property that the city will continue to own.
Jack Reece, a member of the committee that had researched how individuals' investments into the dog park on Drummond Road could be protected, presented the committee's request that the council designate the parcel as a multi-use city park and convey a conservation easement to Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) to be held permanently in trust for the public. Reece noted that real estate development can "come very fast" and that people living in the city could quickly have little access to the water. The park would help provide the public with that access. Another member of the committee, Jan Finley, said that funds to maintain and develop the park for picnicking and other public uses could come from donations made in memory of pets, family members or anyone else.
Marty Anderson of MCHT outlined that the land trust had been invited by the committee to explore the possibility of a conservation easement to preserve public uses of the land, including as a dog exercise area and for access for clamming. While MCHT would hold the conservation easement, which would conserve certain attributes of the land in trust in perpetuity, the city would still own and manage the parcel. The easement would restrict developments such as a gas station, housing development or landfill, and the city could still sell the parcel to a nonprofit land conservation organization in the future.
Dean Pike argued that, if the city sold the Drummond Road property and moved the dog park to another location, such as next to Shackford Head State Park, the city could use the revenue to help avoid raising taxes that will be needed to fund the school system. He maintained that there is a great deal of property in the city that is not taxed and elderly residents have a hard time paying taxes. Sue Lara also said the parcel should be sold and the city "should not give it away to a land trust." She also felt that city-owned land next to Shackford's Head could be developed as a dog park to replace the one on Drummond Road.
David Gholson said the city, by conveying the conservation easement, would not be "giving away anything" but instead would ensure that the land is available for use by the citizens of Eastport. Kendall Ziegler, who said she uses the dog park every day, argued that selling the land "would be a short-term solution to a long-term problem." Denise Cassidy said the dog park is an asset that would help bring new families to town.
Chris Gardner argued that a conservation easement would strip away from future generations the right to determine the use of that land. Reece responded that when he visits the country's national parks he is "so glad that someone made that decision for me years ago," so the land was conserved for public access. Peter Frewen added that, once land is sold to private interests, "that's forever," and the owners can prohibit public access to the land. He also questioned how selling the property would preserve the city budget.
Councillor Gilbert Murphy felt it would be "very short-sighted of the city not to save this property," and council President Mary Repole felt that having places available for recreation would help in attracting families to move to the city. The council then voted 3-0 to convey the conservation easement to Maine Coast Heritage Trust, with Councillor Colleen Dana-Cummings abstaining and Councillor Mike Cummings absent. During open forum, before the discussion on the property, Jan Finley had stated that she felt that Dana-Cummings should recuse herself from the discussion, since she lives next to the city-owned parcel. Finley also felt that Dana-Cummings had violated the council's Code of Conduct by making negative attacks about the proposed easement through Facebook and the media before the council meeting.
Recreational trail proposal
Hugh French outlined a proposal to develop the former railroad bed from Sea Street to outer Key Street into a recreational trail, with easements or land acquisition needed from seven property owners. Motorized vehicles would not be allowed on the trail. He noted that the trail would provide the opportunity to extend the downtown walkway to an outer residential area, and then possibly the trail could be continued to Pleasant Point to link into the recreational trail system in the county. Steve Rodewald commented that a trail from Water Street out to Route 1 was "a wonderful vision." The council approved having the city apply for a $35,000 grant from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. The 50% match will not require any funds from the city.
Deep Cove boat ramp
Port Director Chris Gardner gave a presentation about current port authority activities, including the rebuilding of the breakwater, County Road reconstruction and the Deep Cove boat ramp. While city and port authority officials have discussed having the port authority take over the boat ramp project, Gardner said the port authority wants the council to set whether the goal for the project is just for a boat launch ramp or for floats for berthing, too.
City Manager Larry Post said the city is applying for a $90,000 Small Harbor Improvement Grant (SHIP) from the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT), with a 50% match needed from the city. The city already has $75,000 for the project. The funding would be sufficient only for a boat ramp and parking lot. The council approved having the city apply for the grant, and discussion about having the port authority take over the project was tabled until the DOT decides on the grant application.
Denise Cassidy noted that two drunk drivers have now hit the same utility pole on County Road, causing much of the city "to be held hostage" while the power was out. She asked if a barrier could be placed in front of the pole to keep such outages from happening again.
The council decided to discuss the fireworks ordinance at its December meeting. Also, the budget committee will be appointed at that meeting.
Following a public hearing, the council approved two zoning ordinance amendments, adding "processing or shipping of goods" to the definition of Industrial, deleting the section that gives the state jurisdiction over signs on state roads in the city, so the city will have jurisdiction, and adding a map outlining zoning districts and sign restrictions along Route 190. The map will make it easier for the public to see what the districts and restrictions are along that road.
In other action the council approved authorizing the treasurer to place excess revenue received from the sale of tax-acquired property into the Economic Development Reserve Account, with the council to be provided a report on that account at each monthly meeting. The council scheduled public hearings at its December 11 meeting on an airport ordinance amendment and a zoning change from R2 to B2 for 18 Toll Bridge Road. The parcel is owned by Eastern Plumbing and Heating, which will have an office building there. Code Enforcement Officer Robert Scott reported that the Zoning Board of Appeals has approved a special exception permit for Susan Fisher to have a barbershop in an R2 zone at 114 Water St.
The city's Energy Committee has been discussing with the city manager small scale energy efficiency improvements at city hall to save on heating costs. The committee is a member of the new Affordable Heat Consortium that had its inaugural meeting in Eastport in October. The consortium is developing practical strategies that generate savings on winter heating costs.