Thursday, July 28, 2005

Residents object to ‘highway’ to historic farm

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (July 28, 2005): One elm tree with tracks of construction vehicles on two sides of it remains along Cecile and John Carver's driveway. The tree is the last that remains of a long row planted along Marion Jordan Road by the Jordan family.

"It would be just terrible if that went," said Cecile Carver.

Carver is one of a group of residents who are objecting to changes that have come to their picturesque corner of Scarborough as the result of a new housing development on the historic Cole Farm off Marion Jordan Road. They believe the changes happening there are similar to ones happening all over town.

Mary Lello, whose home looks out over the Cole Farm land, said the problem is not the people doing the road-widening work, or the developer, who is just doing what was required by the town.

“It’s about this town,” said Lello, a lifelong Scarborough resident. “They’ve changed it so drastically.”

Marion Jordan Road used to be a 16-foot-wide road with grassy shoulders. At the end of the road was a sign marking the beginning of a 12-foot-wide private road whose sole purpose was to provide access to the Cole Farm, a 41-acre estate that was home to Rev. Franklin Cole, who died in 1997, and his wife, Eleanor, who died in 2004, and to the home of Cecile Carver and her husband, John.

Now both roads are being torn up and replaced with a 20-foot-wide strip of pavement, bordered by several feet of shoulder and drainage swale, for a total width of 50 feet, according to plans of the project.

In addition, a new road, 10 feet of asphalt plus 20 feet of gravel, and shoulder and drainage swale, is being built across what used to be a field, to provide a second access route for fire trucks to reach the homes being built on the farm.

Wide roads

“This is basically the town’s fault,” said Cecile Carver. The fire department had “no problem” getting to her home, at the far end of the private road, when her alarm system malfunctioned.

“Now the town for some reason decided there had to be this highway,” she said.

“It was an old road that predates some of the ordinances,” said Town Planner Joe Ziepniewski.

The standard width for all roads in town is 24 feet, Ziepniewski said. The Planning Board reduced the required road width to 20 feet, which is the “absolute minimum” in the town's fire lane ordinance, he said.

Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said that width, also codified in state law, is necessary for eight-foot-wide fire trucks to pass each other.

The extra four feet are required to prevent trucks from slapping mirrors, to have room for hoses to be laid in the roadway, to allow for snowbanks in the wintertime, and to allow pumper trucks to be parked next to fire hydrants without blocking the road for other rescue and fire vehicles, he said.

In addition, it is standard in town to have a five-foot shoulder shoring up the pavement, and providing room for underground utilities, before the drainage ditch begins, according to Town Engineer Jim Wendel.

The wider road has required cutting down several trees along Marion Jordan Road, which has distressed neighbors. Lello called the road construction zone “an absolutely bombed-out disaster area.”

Developer Paul Hollis said he would be replanting vegetation along the road. “I want the same privacy reinstated back there,” he said, noting that the road is “not any wider than any legal road in Scarborough that’s being built.”

Another town mandate protested by neighbors is the clearing and leveling of part of the field for the secondary access road, crossing property owned by Herb Ginn.

“They’ve destroyed that field,” said Carver. “I think it’s a disaster what they’re doing in this town. They’re destroying it.”

The secondary access is required in town law, to let fire and rescue trucks through if Marion Jordan Road is impassable.

Neighbor Marie Demicco said Marion Jordan Road couldn’t possibly be blocked by downed trees, because all of the large trees have been cut down.

Marion Jordan Road is clearly the preferable route: Lello has driven both routes to the Black Point Fire Station, and found that the fire station is four-tenths of a mile if she drives out Marion Jordan Road to Spurwink Road. If she follows the new road across the Ginns’ land, the fire station is a mile away.

Ginn said he has no problem with the road: “It’s never going to be used.”

Frustration with the town

Neighbors say town officials did not help them understand what was going on or why.

“It seems way beyond what’s necessary,” Lello said. “We just don’t understand why their mandates are so vast.”

“Maybe (the road) was a little narrow,” Lello said, but the widening has “blasted us out of here.”

Neighbor Howard Lehrer also questions the town’s motivation for requiring the road be so wide. “I’m hoping they don’t know something we don’t know,” he said, fearing the prospect of more development in the neighborhood.

Resident Jerry Sanders said he wanted more support from the town.

“I wonder why the town has not really counseled us and helped us a little more” about what to expect and what their role is as easement holders, he said. When he asked for that help, he was told town officials don’t do it.

“If they don’t help the citizens plan, it seems like there’s a piece of the pie missing,” Sanders said.

He said the neighbors dealt with this individually, not as a neighborhood, leaving homeowners “feeling powerless.”

He has come to believe that “the town has these guidelines they have to follow or they get sued. … Where does it end? Does every community get a heliport or a helipad” to rush accident victims to the hospital, he asked.

“None of us have gone through this before,” and have been very disturbed by the project, approved in Town Hall, which is “a separate community from the community at large,” he said.

Trouble with the developer

Project developer Hollis is also taking heat for how he is handling the work.

Neighbor Marie Demicco said he originally proposed “a very grand plan for a very wide road with very wide shoulders” narrowed by four feet only after she and her husband objected.

Other neighbors are upset by the fact that Hollis, who had originally said he would live in the Coles' former farmhouse at the center of the development, no longer plans to do so.

His wife decided against it "at the 11th hour," Hollis said, after moving twice in seven years.

Hollis is now planning to split the farmhouse lot, which also contains a barn, into two parcels, selling the farmhouse and keeping the barn, which he wants to restore.

“There’s not any more houses going in,” beyond the 10 approved initially, he said.

He admits he probably went about things “backwards” by seeking permission for the lot split from the Planning Board before talking to the neighbors about it.

After hearing about the residents’ objections, he asked the Planning Board to delay its consideration, and plans to meet with landowners in the development itself next week.

He said he has told neighbors along Marion Jordan and Meadowood Drive to “put a meeting together and I’ll be there.”

Jerry Sanders is one of the neighbors Hollis asked to organize a meeting. He said he hasn’t yet because “no one really wants to.”

Sanders said he hopes to avoid an antagonistic relationship between neighbors and Hollis. But he said town officials and the developer described the changes as “‘minimal effect.’ Then when the machines come in, there’s a maximal effect that’s just shocking. … It’s not like anybody lied. They just didn’t create an accurate picture.”