Thursday, August 25, 2005

Changing Cape begins to plan for future

Published in the Current

CAPE ELIZABETH (Aug 25, 2005): More than one-third of the homes in Cape Elizabeth are occupied by a single person.

That is just one aspect of a 30-year trend in Cape Elizabeth that has more homes being built even as the number of people living in town remains about the same.

“We’ve grown in housing units but not in population,” Town Manager Mike McGovern told the Comprehensive Plan Committee last week, as part of a discussion of the history of town efforts to plan for the future.

In 1972, when the town took its first shot at a comprehensive plan, the population was about 7,000. The 1972 plan was rejected by the Planning Board then, but remains as a reference for town leaders, McGovern said. The Comprehensive Plan Committee is just beginning its work updating the town's plan for the future, last updated in 1994.

Since 1972, more than 1,000 homes have been built in town, bringing the total of single-family houses to over 3,300 in 2000 Census figures. That’s nearly half as many as existed in 1972. But the number of people climbed more slowly, reaching just over 9,000 in the 2000 Census, well below the 1972 projection that there would be 15,000 Cape residents, McGovern said.

“The population in the 1970s did not increase despite 320 new housing units,” he said. The main reason for that is “there’s far fewer people per household.”

McGovern noted also that the town more than doubled its land holdings between 1972 and 2005, and that the number of farms increased from nine to 10, though “they’re different types of farms.”

He said his numbers showed that “as much as things don’t seem to change much in Cape Elizabeth, there is in fact a lot of change that is going on.”

Recreational life in town has definitely changed. “In 1972 there was absolutely no Community Services program,” McGovern said, and “Fort Williams was just a bunch of buildings. … It had not yet been designated a park.”

He urged the committee to “challenge every assumption” in the present comprehensive plan, created in 1994 and under review this year by a committee of citizens and elected officials.

He asked whether the vacant lot next to the Inn by the Sea should remain zoned for business, as it now is, and also suggested the group look at housing needs, saying “affordable housing is disappearing” from the town.

“The community needs more than just single-family homes,” McGovern said.

He also suggested the committee review the desire, stated in several town planning documents, that the “rural character” of Cape Elizabeth be preserved. He noted that since that phrase first appeared, 1,000 homes have been built.

“Maybe it’s time to segment” the town, focusing rural-protection efforts in some areas while not in others, he said.

He asked them to consider what changes might mean for residents’ property rights, particularly on the Sprague estate, a vast parcel of land in the southwestern part of town that is privately owned and governed by a town-approved master plan for future development and conservation.

Survey in the works

A survey of town residents is in the planning stages, with Critical Insights, a Portland firm owned by Cape resident MaryEllen FitzGerald, slated to conduct a phone survey of a random sample of residents, pending approval of sufficient funding, according to Town Planner Maureen O’Meara. The survey will cost just shy of $15,000.

The last comprehensive plan is based on a town-wide written survey mailed to all residents, of whom just over 100 chose to respond.

The Critical Insights survey will randomly select 400 residents, a sample that because of its randomness and its size will be large enough to make the results statistically representative of the entire town population, FitzGerald told the committee last week.