2018-01-05 / Front Page

Kings Hwy numbers game rolls on

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — As 2017 drew to a close, long-simmering discontent of a town project to renumber homes along Kings Highway in Kennebunkport entered a new phase — one that promised to drag debate into 2018.

The issue began to take shape in late September, when selectmen agreed to take the advice of the town’s public safety committee to “review all streets in town and correct all known problems, either by renumbering and/or potentially renaming streets to be in compliance with state of Maine e911 guidelines.”

Although that promised to be a process town addressing officer James Burrows likened to “a root canal,” the board agreed the numbering of homes along the road had become what selectman Allen Daggett called “an everyday confusion.”

According to Burrows, Kennebunkport was actually “ahead of the curve” when in 1990 it began the process of renumbering and, in some cases, renaming streets in order to comply with e911 addressing — a system approved by the state legislature just two years earlier in order to automatically convey an address to emergency responders when placing that all-important call to 911.

“There has been very little guidance from the state as this was a new concept for all municipalities,” Burrows wrote in a Sept. 21 memo to the board. “Based on information given, addressing officials moved forward with the numbering of homes in a way that seemed most efficient at that time.”

It was not until 1997 when the state issued its first manual of standards and practices for addressing officers. But that guide came along three years after Kennebunkport had finished the laborious task on its own.

“We’ve worked to address issues as we’ve seen them, but there was not that flexibility in the numbering system we had in place and that’s resulted in out-of-sequence numbers, rear lot designations, or As and Bs on top of numbers,” Town Manager Lurue Smith said.

Kings Highway is “kind of the pinnacle of all those situations,” Smith said, noting that “condos have split houses” on some lots, and some driveways have been moved to side streets, while on other lots, “what were garages have become homes.”

Smith pointed out that people often develop an “emotional attachment” to their house numbers. But she and other town officials understand the change means more than getting used to a new numbers. “It changes their banking, it changes their deed, it changes their mortgage,” she said.

In testament to that fact, Smith acknowledged some grumbling was heard about the renumbering project even before the September vote to proceed.

“I recently had correspondence from an individual who would be impacted who wanted a 5 percent tax reduction because of the renumbering and the inconvenience factor,” she said.

In November, Brendan Donovan, who has lived on Kings Highway since 2007, appeared before selectmen in person to object to the renumbering. He pointed out that there are about 240 homes along one of the town’s oldest roads.

A 1970 report of the Maine Department of Transportation on the history of Maine roads reports that the Kings Highway was first laid out by commissioners from the governing Massachusetts Bay colony in 1653. Of course, its lofty name notwithstanding, the road was initially “nothing more than two cart wheel ruts with a horse path in the middle,” the report noted.

Donovan argued that only between 15 and 20 homes actually require a change of house number. Renumbering the entire street is overkill, he said.

“That’s less than 10 percent of the total. I’m openly curious why that 10 percent — by my calculation actually 6.3 percent — should affect the remaining 92 percent,” he said. “If we lived in a true democracy, it’s the majority that prevails.

Donovan, who said he works in the mortgage field, submitted a package of information to selectmen, which included his estimate of the cost to homeowners to update all of their relevant home and financial information subsequent to a change of house number.

“I sympathize with you, but I think this is for the greater good,” Selectman Ed Hutchins said. “You’re not the only one this is going to happen to. Kings Highway is not the only road that is going to be affected by this.”

Donovan was thanked, but he did not let the issue rest there. At the selectboard’s Dec. 14 meeting, he returned with property plans for homes along the road. The town cannot legally renumber the homes along the road, Donovan claimed, because that would amount to changing the property plans.

“The Maine State bar association indicates that the town does not own the streets,” he said. “[That means] I happen to own half of Kings Highway in front of my home. My neighbor on the other side of the street owns the other half. My opinion is that the town does not have the authority to change these subdivision plans.”

But Donovan allowed selectmen should not take his word for it. Instead, he asked that they consult the town attorney for an opinion before proceeding with the renumbering scheme.

“I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said.

Once again, Donovan was thanked. However, toward the end of the meeting, after he had left, Selectman Stuart Barwise made note of one additional fly in the ointment.

Referring to the 1889 annual town report, Barwise said it contained three separate references to the town actually owning the road.

“It appears the road was taken by the town although that may not have been filed [at the York County Registry of Deeds] in Alfred,” he said.

“You have an excellent memory,” Smith said.

“My mother was there at the time,” Barwise joked.

His mother, Barbara Barwise, is known for her extensive knowledge of town history.

“I have someone at my disposal who I’ve learned not to question,” her son quipped.

As it turns out, Donovan is not the only one objecting to the planned renumbering. Following his November appearance before selectmen, six letters of support were submitted to selectmen.

“My wife and I have been full-time residents since June of 2001. We have never heard of any complaints related to the house numbers on Kings Highway,” wrote Winston Ryan in a Nov. 29 letter. “We are very much opposed to this plan.”

“A change in our house number would be almost overwhelming and could incur expenses,” wrote Eliza Webster on Nov. 27, ticking off a list of nearly two dozen things, from deed information to medical records, that would also have to be updated as result.

“I implore you to not to renumber the residences along Kings Highway,” Webster wrote. “To re-number would impact so many for the sake of a few.”

“There is no need to change house numbers along this stretch of road,” wrote Caron Cottman on Nov. 21. “It seems a massive waste of taxpayer money and employees’ time, along with a massive inconvenience to homeowners. You will be creating a mess for all of us. Will the town be willing to reimburse all of us for this unnecessary expense and time?”

“The easiest way forward may be convenient for town administrators, but it will be a disservice to the community,” wrote Robert Baylis on Nov. 22. “Take the time to do the right thing.”

Deciding who ultimately gets what number will be the work of the public safety committee, which includes Police Chief Craig Sanford, Public Works Director Michael Claus, as well as Joseph Carroll, chief of operations for Kennebunkport Emergency Management Services.

Burrows has said he can not predict when the new numbering scheme would be in place, or when residents would be notified of the changes. However, he said he was hopeful of confining the updates to Kings Highway.

“For the majority of the streets, I see no reason for changing the method we are using based on 100-foot intervals,” he said. “It’s working. In fact, the system we have has worked for the most part for 25 years.”

Smith said the most imminent changes are only the tip of the renumbering iceberg.

“We’ll be starting on Kings Highway and moving out from there,” she told selectmen, noting that in more developed areas of town, house numbers might be reserved for every 25 to 50 feet of road frontage, to account for future development, so that where numbers are changed, “they won’t have to go through this again.”

“It’s going to be a big job and it’s going to impact a lot of people,” she said.

Burrows said that as addressing officer he will be “the whipping boy,” for any homeowners disgruntled by the committee’s new numbering and naming conventions. Smith will be the person to whom residents can appeal a new designation. And, of any resident is still not satisfied, selectmen will be the avenue of final appeal, Smith said.

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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