CHEBEAGUE ISLAND — A parcel of land that attracted housing developers in the early 20th century may, a hundred years later, serve the town as a new ferry landing site.
The town will use a $20,000 grant from the Maine Coastal Program to study and assess possible uses for the parcel, known locally as Sunset Landing, the name the would-be housing developers coined for the 8.2-acre property. But town officials and committee members stress that no decisions will be made until the assessment work is presented to the public for comment.
Eric Dyer, the town administrator, said the grant will pay for assessment work that will serve as the next steps in already completed analysis. Boundary surveys and soil tests have been done, as has a topography profile.
“We’ve already conducted a lot of the physical surveys,” he said, funded with $20,000 from town coffers.
A water-side bathometric survey, examining the nature of the bottom, will follow.
What’s attractive about the parcel is the deep water that lies along its shore, and that it sits on the western side of the island, making it more accessible to the mainland. Islanders persuaded the town of Cumberland more than 20 years ago to buy the property when it became available, Dyer said. Since then, Chebeague seceded from Cumberland and formed its own municipality.
Back then, the property was seen as important for fishing, recreation and transportation uses. Island resident Mary Holt, who serves on the committee studying the parcel, said three sites with deep-water access were considered before the town bought the Sunset Landing site.
In the 1910s, a housing subdivision was registered for the site, Dyer said, and the streets surveyed and recorded.
“It was laid out to look like a subdivision in Florida,” he said.
Holt said a pier was built there 100 years ago, with the developer apparently hoping people would visit from Portland by boat.
“It does have lovely sunsets,” she said.
Holt’s research found that a few model homes were built, though they apparently were moved off-site when the development failed to garner buyer interest.
Dyer said the investigation of the property has generated some controversy, with some islanders assuming the parcel is being studied only for possible use as a new ferry landing. No conclusions have been drawn, he said.
But the island does have concerns about the future of ferry transportation.
The Casco Bay Lines serves the island from Portland, but Chebeague is the next-to-last stop on the run. That ferry lands at Chandler’s Cove at a state-owned pier on a peninsula on the southwest side of the island.
The town-based nonprofit Chebeague Transportation Company operates a boat from Cousins Island in Yarmouth. That ferry lands at the island’s stone wharf.
“It’s an old facility,” Dyer said, built with stacked stone. “It’s a mixed-use facility with all the conflicts you’d expect with a mixed-used facility.”
Thirty vehicles can park on the wharf itself, another 40 or so can park at an adjacent gravel lot and up to 35 can park on the road that bisects the Chebeague Golf Club.
“We have changing needs,” he said. “People bring more cars [to the island] than they used to.”
Holt said while the site is valuable for a possible ferry landing, many on the island use it recreationally.
“People talk about it being open space,” she said. “It’s beautifully treed. It’s a lovely walk down to the shore. People have walked their dogs down there for years,” she said.
Dyer said trails could be developed, a kayak launch established, picnic tables set up, and the parcel could be recreational only. Or those uses could co-exist with a new ferry landing. Or the town could sell the land.
“All of that is speculation,” he said, explaining that the key is to assess the parcel’s characteristics and limitations, then present those facts to the public, which would constitute phase 3 of the process; the town-funded work was phase 1, and the just-landed grant would pay for the phase 2 work.
“We’re trying to go slow and steady,” Dyer said.