2017-02-03 / Front Page

Arundel settles on new town hall site

Selectmen unanimously opt for 38 acres on Limerick Road
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — After years of wrangling various options, Arundel selectmen have finally settled on a location for new town hall, although much depends on the formation of a new conservation trust to participate in the purchase.

Following an executive session, Monday, Jan. 23, the board voted 5-0 to forsake all other options in favor of a 38-acre lot on Limerick Road, located about a quarter mile from the current town office.

The last three board meetings have all featured closed-door talks on the topic. However, board chairman Velma Hayes said Tuesday the recent sessions have had less to do with the Limerick Road lot than with a pair of properties, topping 100 acres, directly across Mountain and Limerick roads from the Arundel Fire Station.

“When we first started this process years ago, that property was actually our number one choice, but she did not want to sell to the town,” Hayes said of the properties, then owned by Marilyn Young.

Since then, selectmen have mulled at least six building sites, including locations on Campground Road, Bergeron Drive, and Route 111, along with two on Route 1, in addition to the Limerick Road property. Eventually, the frontrunners seemed to be Limerick Road, versus a town-owned lot off Route 1, near 1389 Portland Road, and selectmen paid for engineering reports on both properties.

But late last year, Young’s heirs approached the town about a possible transaction, and it was back to square one,

“We were waiting for information on the property across the street, but we couldn’t seem to get any information, or come up with a price we could even talk about,” Hayes said, characterizing the recent meetings as mostly non-updates on the Young properties.

“So, we decided it was time to make a final decision,” she said. “We’ve been working on this for years and years and every year the current town hall gets worse and worse.”

Town Manager Keith Trefethen said Tuesday, Jan. 24, he could not reveal an asking price for the Limerick Road lot, which is owned by Steve and Margo Emerson. However, Steve Emerson said last August the offer had been $200,000 for a 4-acre parcel in what is now an open field, or $375,000 for the entire site.

At the time, Emerson said in an interview with the Post, later repeated at a public hearing, that he preferred to sell the full lot to the town. The alternative he said, would have been to convert the site into what assessors often call the “highest and best use” — which meant dividing it up into house lots. It was at about that time a number of Arundel residents began to coalesce around the idea of forming a local land trust to help facilitate the sale.

The current plan, Trefethen said, is for the town to buy a certain, to-be-determined, number of acres of the Emerson property, while “some local conservation trust“ buys the rest.

That group may well be the newly formed Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT), although it is still very much in the seedling phase. ACT has about a dozen active members, but has yet organize as a tax-exempt nonprofit, or conduct any fundraising. Instead, talks have been underway since November to have ACT operate under the auspices of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust (KCT), a well-organized group active since 1973.

Still, while hopeful. ACT chairman Joan Hull said Tuesday that relationship has not yet been set in stone.

“We’re still looking at ways of organizing that might work best for us,” she said, in an interview on Tuesday, the day after the selectboard vote.

“We’re trying to determine first if that’s an arrangement that is workable and beneficial to both groups,” agreed KCT Executive Director Tom Bradbury. “Once that is determined we would see how such a structure would or could operate. We’re doing our research.

“Certainly by spring, and probably within the next month, we’ll be able to decide if it will work, and then it would take a few, short months to formalize the arrangement,” Bradbury said.

The new ACT group began life last fall as a loose coalition of Arundel residents who favored the Limerick Road property over the Route 1 site for the new 8,000-square-foot municipal office.

A few residents claimed the Route 1 location would help spur development along the town’s primary commercial corridor, but those who joined to form ACT, among others, felt Limerick Road is more central to most residents. It also held additional promise due to its size and proximity to both the Eastern Trail and the Kennebunk River.

“We thought this town hall site is a perfect opportunity to not just get a building in which to get your permits and pay your taxes, but to create a sort of community center, to help us grow together as a community,” Hull said.

Working with the town, ACT might be able to secure the entire Emerson property, along with easements over abutting land, providing pubic access from town hall parking areas to the river and trail systems. But here also is a larger goal, one that convinced ACT founders a group like theirs was needed in order to protect Arundel’s rural character from the urban sprawl slowly subdividing its way across traditional farmlands.

“Right now in Arundel there is a lot of land for sale,” Hull said. “It’s becoming more and more populated, and the time is now to work together to see if we can save some of this land from development, to preserve what it is we all love about Arundel, in terms of its rural character, for future generations.”

Once ACT is up and running, however it structures itself, it will have a heavy load to lift to raise funds for its part of the purchase, not to mention ongoing maintenance of the property. It also most likely needs to raise money to buy easements for the river and trail access.

Of course, that’s if land or easements are not donated, which becomes a tax-deductible possibility once ACT gains nonprofit status. One of the abutting landowners is Selectman Phil Labbe. That may bode well for any future agreement, although Labbe has yet to make a public statement on his intentions.

“If you know Selectman Labbe, you know he keeps his cards really close to his chest,” Trefethen said. “But at some point I’m sure he’ll make a determination with his family when we know what is going to happen on the town end.”

The town also has some fundraising of its own to do in order to facilitate the project.

According to Trefethen, Arundel currently has “slightly over $300,000” to work with, using funds set aside annually in a town office reserve account. That would seemingly cover the town’s part of the land purchase, and then some. However, site preparation for construction has been pegged by South Portland engineering firm Sebago Technics at $610,052. Then there’s the new town office itself. Selectmen have a set of plans on hand, along with a 2014 estimate of $1.6 million to build it.

“But we’ve had those plans for a few years now, so we may need to go back and look at them again,” Hayes said.

Members of ACT and others have suggested at public hearings that the town could sell the 10-acre lot on Route 1 to help fund town hall construction on Limerick Road. However, Hayes says that, while voters will almost certainly see a warrant article at the annual town meeting in June asking for permission to buy and build, they probably won’t see one asking to sell.

“We want to make sure we keep all of our options open,” Hayes said, indicating selectmen will probably wait on any sale until the Limerick Road sale is final and hammers start to swing.

There also will not be any sale of the current town hall. Because it is part of the same lot with the fire station, “it really can’t be split off,” Trefethen said.

“We’ll have to wait and see what we do with that building,” he said.

Negotiations with the Emersons on a sale price should begin soon, Trefethen said.

“We are very fortunate that the Emersons have been patient with us for as long as they have and held the property in abeyance, and not brokering some other sale,” Hayes said. “Speaking for me personally, I thank them for that.”

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

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