2017-05-26 / Community

Port seeks permission for land purchase

Special town meeting called to authorize $5 million bond
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

KENNEBUNKPORT — Voters in Kennebunkport have a chance to invest in what has been called a “once-in-lifetime” land deal. Or not. At this point it’s really up in the air.

On Thursday, May 18, selectmen met in executive session to consider an 87-acre property at 49 North St., already approved by the town for an 80-unit housing development known as the Olde Port Village. According to board vice-chairman Patrick Briggs, that meeting was precipitated by an email circulated by David James, president of the Kennebunkport Residents Association, to group members.

On Monday, James said that email advised the Olde Port Village was on the auction block. Keenan Real Estate Auctions had posted notice of a June 2 foreclosure sale.

The site, located just a short walk from historic Dock Square, is owned by CDMK LLC, and is considered one of the last big undeveloped lot in town not otherwise locked into a conservation easement. It was last put on the auction block in 2010. CDMK paid $3.5 million for the property in 2006 and apparently found no buyers in 2010. This time, James said, word is that the company, which list a mailing address belonging to Thomas Macone in Stoneham, Massachusetts, ran into issues with a private mortgage holder.

“Apparently, the mortgage holder died and his son decided he’d rather have the cash than the mortgage, so he put it through foreclosure,” James explained.

Because of the prime location and development potential, selectmen voted 4-0, with Allan Daggett absent, that they the wanted in on the deal. Following a 9-0 endorsement by the budget board, selectmen scheduled a special town meeting for 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25, at the village fire station, at 32 North Street.

The single item on the warrant will ask permission from voters to issue up to $5 million in general obligation bonds in order to place a bid on the property. Keenan is requiring a minimum $50,000 deposit in order to place a bid.

According to the warrant, that $5 million, if approved by voters, would boost the town’s total indebtedness to $7.94 million, including $944,343 in outstanding debt and $2 million in bonds previously authortized but not yet issued.

If the entire $5 million is spent, it is expected to cost taxpayers an additional $1.84 million in interest, at 3 percent over 20 years.

However, the vote may not happen at all.

“The sign at the property has come down, although the information is still up at the Keenan website,” James said. “There is word going around that the developer may have reached a deal with the mortgage holder.”

If so, that may cancel the foreclosure sale, but it would not cancel the town meeting.

According to Town Clerk Tracey O’Roak, state law calls for a minimum of seven says of public posting for a town meeting, meaning its too late to cancel.

“The meeting will still have to happen, even if it’s only to gavel it into session and then immediately adjourn,” she said.

Selectboard chairman Stuart Barwise could not be reached for comment and Briggs declined comment, saying, “everything that’s public is already out there.”

The town did not record video of the public portion of the selectboard’s special May 18 meeting, or of the subsequent budget board session. However, Briggs said the special town meeting warrant “explains it all.”

James said the unanimous budget board vote was only meant to give a nod to calling a special town meeting on the topic, and should not be taken by voters as a call for or against the bond.

Briggs declined to say why selectmen wanted to take the issue to voters.

Town Manager Laurie Smith said Monday she, too, has head that the developer and mortgage holder had reached a deal, although the final paperwork had not been finalized. If the agreement comes off in time, there would be no auction, she said. Still, selectmen wanted to be ready, just in case, although she declined to say what the town might do with the property, or even what options might be on the table.

“I don’t see that the town would be a developer, but there is no plan at this point. This information came to us very recently, so there has not been that public process to determine what the property would be used for,” Smith said. “I think the issue is that this is a valuable piece of property that is very close to in-town services and locations. It connects North Street and School Street and has impact on potentially a lot of abutting properties. So, the town feels it’s important to have a say in what happens at that property in the future.

“We think there is only a small chance that this will go to auction, but we did not want to be in the position of looking back and saying, if it did not go to auction, that the town should have a seat at the table to decide the future of this property. I think the selectmen and the budget board felt strongly that the townspeople should at least have the option of having the town at the table.”

Although the Olde Port Village site has been largely cleared, none of the approved buildings have gone up. Because of the delay in construction CDMK had to come hack once before for a new site plan approval from the planning board.

The site is currently permitted for 68 duplex and 12 multiplex style homes ranging in size from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet, along with complex amenities including a clubhouse, fitness center, media room, business office, swimming pool and tennis court. It’s doubtful any of that would be built this construction season, however, as Smith said permits are once again due to expire in August. That means CDMK, or the new owner if it comes to that, will have to return to the planning board for a new site plan review. The property is partly in the village residential zoning disitrict, and partly in a free enterprise zone.

“I think the important thing for people to know is that the selectmen just see this as an opportunity and want to make sure the townspeople have a voice, but there is not plan,” Smith said. “I’ve been asked that over and over, ‘Well, what are the plans?’ We do not have any plans at this point, but see that there are many, many opportunities and potentials for the future. It is 87 acres of pretty much virgin land that is well-connected to main streets. The town would decide the use in the future, if any bid was successful.”

James said that although he is not pushing any particular future for the site, or even suggesting any one option has been discussed over others, some possibilities — “just brainstorming” — include open space conservation, affordable workforce housing, a place for a new, larger town hall, or some combination thereof.

“These are just my own speculations for why the town might want to make use of the property, not any indication at all of what the town might do. The town has made no public statement whatsoever as to how they might want to use the land,” James said. “But there are many, many, many options. This is kind of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, rather than seeing it developed into 80 high-priced residential units, there might be alternatives that the town might want to consider.

“But that’s all assuming foreclosure has not been settled,” James said.

Smith and Town Planner Werner Gilliam were not available for comment Tuesday and officials from Keenan could not be reached. However, O’Roak said a notice would be posted on the town website if it turns out the special town meeting will become a formality only with no action set to take place.

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

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