Cape Elizabeth Notes – 12/19

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Children’s Garden

At its Dec. 9 meeting, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council accepted a $529,735 plan to construct a children’s garden at Fort Williams Park as part of the Fort Williams Foundation’s ongoing arboretum project.

The site, designed by Mitchell & Associates Landscape Architects of Portland, is scheduled to be built behind the tennis courts on Farnsworth Road in 2015, using private donations. In addition to a pond and stream, the site will include a stone seating circle for presentations, a meadow maze, a birch tree fort and a fairy house building.

Foundation calculations show the garden will require almost $20,000 in annual maintenance costs. Town Council Chairman Jessica Sullivan said the council will take up the garden plans in a workshop session to be scheduled in February.

Canopy grant

With the 50th anniversary of Fort Williams Park on tap for 2014, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council has applied for a $32,759 Project Canopy grant from the USDA Forest Service.

If awarded, the money will be used to clear invasive species and plant some 240 native trees and shrubs at the entrance to the Cliff Walk, a shorefront area cleared in 2012 thanks to $324,000 in private fundraising, $113,000 in in-kind donations, and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor and part of an ongoing arboretum project. If funded, the work will take place through the spring and summer of 2014.

Rules change

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council has amended its rules to allow for some voting when in a workshop setting. Ordinarily, a public body is barred from casting votes when operating in a workshop setting. However, the new rules assert the council’s right to conduct some procedural votes, such as whether or not to recuse a member from debate, or to enter executive session.

The need for the change arose during a September workshop on the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, at which the council was temporarily stymied on how it might vote to recuse Councilor Jamie Wagner, an attorney who represented a Cross Hill resident in a dispute with the club prior to his tenure on the council. Although a vote on recusal did take place, there was considerable debate at the time over whether the workshop would have to be scuttled until a recusal vote could be made at a regular council meeting.

The council also broke from a workshop in November for an hour-long talk with the town attorney behind closed doors about a controversial new draft of the Greenbelt Trail map. State law compels a municipal body to conduct a public vote on whether to enter executive session, at which it must state the “particular nature” of the business to be discussed and reveal the statutory authority that permits that type of private meeting.

On Monday, Sigmund Shutz, attorney for the Maine Press Association, said the new rules do jive with Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. “As long as they give public notice of their workshops and open them to the public, this seems OK from a FOAA vantage point,” he said.

FEMA map

According to Cape Elizabeth Code Enforcement Officer Benjamin McDougal, 34 homes in town are newly located in 100-year floodzone maps recently released by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Placement in the zone, predicted to have a 1 percent chance of flooding in any given year, requires the purchase of federal flood insurance for the property, if there is a mortgage on it. The majority of the affected homes, 14, are in the Alewife Cove area. FEMA is holding a meeting for community officials in Portland on Jan. 8 to review the maps. Then, following a public hearing to be announced, FEMA will entertain a six-month appeal period. Barring any major revisions based on those appeals, the new flood maps are expected to become official in July 2015.

Town Manager Michael McGovern has previously announced that Cape will not pursue an appeal of its own on behalf of residents. “Most of the recent mapping appears to be reasonable and accurate,” he said at the council’s Dec. 9 meeting, “although there are a few [homes] we can’t quite figure out.”

Borrowing bunted

A $1.75 million school borrowing request will be reviewed by Cape Elizabeth’s finance committee at its next meeting, Jan. 29. At the Town Council’s Dec. 9 meeting, School Board Chairman John Christie said the requested bond, if approved by voters next November, would pay for roof replacements at all three public schools, as well as a new HVAC system at the middle school and electrical system upgrades at the high school. The council voted to refer the request to the committee, a group that includes all seven councilors. Currently, Cape also is working toward another $4 million bond for the November ballot. At the Dec. 9 meeting, the council created a Library Building Committee to work on developing plans for a library renovation project.

All-day K

Cape Elizabeth, one of the last school departments in the area to adopt a full-day program for 5-year-olds, is looking to extend its program to all kindergarten students in 2014. At the Dec. 10 school board meeting, Pond Cove Elementary School principal Kelly Hasson reported success this year with a pilot program serving half of the town’s 98 kindergartners, chosen by lottery, and proposed expanding it to all students next year.

The schools’ kindergarten wing, built in 2004, has four classrooms, two of which are used for full-day programming, and two of which serve four half-day classes. Although no numbers were provided, Hasson did say that extending kindergarten to a full-day for all students would require additional classrooms, plus two or three new teachers and ed techs, with resulting cost hikes also anticipated in transportation, food service and arts instruction. However, Superintendent Meredith Nadeau said there should be enough room at the school to accommodate increased kindergarten use without additional construction or portable classrooms.

Assessment of the all-day K proposal will be part of the school board’s budget deliberations this spring.

Moth calls

That flurry of snow you saw in your headlights might not have been snow at all. It could have been a swarm of winter moths. The invasive pest has defoliated “tens of thousands of acres” of Eastern Massachusetts since the 1990s, according to Charlene Donahue, a forest entomologist with the state Department of Conservation Agriculture and Forestry, and last year the species began making a show of force in Cape. Presumably, the moth, which sleeps through the summer buried in soil around the trees and bushes it attacks, was unwittingly brought into the area by landscapers. In May, a survey counted 1.3 moth larvae per leaf bud from a sample of 30 collected in Two Lights State Park, prompting Donahue to pick Cape as a release point for her cache of 10,000 tiny parasitic flies, used to control the moth in British Columbia. However, the tan-colored moth has been spotted in significant numbers again this year and the state is asking anyone who spots the moth to report their sightings on a special survey form. To access the form, simply search for “winter moth survey” at the maine.gov website. Information collected will be used to track the size and scope of the infestation and to plot future methods of combating the moth.

Sandwich signs

The Cape Elizabeth Town Council has unanimously approved the use of so-called sandwich signs at local businesses year-round in the town center and three business zone districts. Previously, the temporary, portable signs were limited to three 30-day periods, each requiring a separate permit from the code enforcement officer.

The signs, now part of a regular sign permit and not counted toward a business’ total allowed signage, are limited to 4 feet in height and 12 square feet per side. The signs, as well as newly permitted “Open” flags, can be displayed only during business hours and cannot be illuminated.

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