2017-06-16 / Community

Arundel to sell four tax-acquired lots

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — Selectmen in Arundel have voted to put four lots taken for non-payment of back taxes up for sale, although they do not expect to get full market value for the properties, which total nearly 40 acres.

“I don’t foresee anyone bidding these kinds of numbers,” Selectman Phil Labbe said at the board’s June 12 meeting, suggesting the town might do better to offer the lots through a broker instead.

“That’s a possibility,” Town Manager Keith Trefethen said. “You’re spot on in that we’re not going to get anybody to bid full market value for those parcels. But I’ve always looked at something like this as getting the property back on the tax rolls.

“Once we do that, then we are getting some regular revenue from them as a result. So, I’m more inclined to just try and get them out there. I don’t think we are going to be harmed in any way by this, Trefethen said.”

Board chairman Velma Hayes said abutters of two of the lots have already expressed an interest in acquiring the town-owned land adjacent to their home.

Bids for the properties are due to the town office by the end of business on Friday, July 7. The sealed offers will be opened at the July 10 selectmen’s meeting, although Trefethen stressed the board has the right to reject any and all offers.

The four properties up for grabs — all vacant lots assessed jointly at nearly $370,000 — include:

 Map 12, Lot 7 — 30.99 acres off Portland Road, acquired in January 2014 and assessed by the town at $234,500. It is described by Trefethen as being, “next to the tire warehouse facility.”

 Map 33, Lot 13-A — 1 acre off of Old Post Road, acquired in July 1994 and assessed at $35,700. Hayes said the town has tried to sell this particular parcel, “many, many times,” before, without success.

 Map 43 Lot 42 — 2.5 acres wedged between River Road and the railroad tracks, acquired in April 2005 and assessed at $45,600.

 Map 10, Lot 6-A — 5.26-acres on Bergeron Lane, taken in January 2013, and assessed at $53,400.

The idea to sell the lots was precipitated by an April 24 email from Mountain Road residents Don and Karen Holbrook. The couple recently approached the planning board about building a private road to a portion of their property to service a pair of house lots they plan to give to their children. However, the planning board said that would mean re-grading the existing driveway and moving underground power lines, work that tallied to a prohibitive cost of more than $300,000. Because the Holbrook property abuts the town-owned lot Bergeron Lane, the couple asked Trefethen if selectmen might be willing to sell, on the hope that building an access road across the neighboring lot might be a cheaper endeavor, even with the purchase cost.

“At this point we aren’t even sure this would cost any less money,” Karen Holbrook wrote in the April 24 email. “We are just looking at possible options. Otherwise, our kids will look to purchase land in another town.”

When he first brought the Holbrooks’ inquiry to selectmen at their May 8 meeting, Trefethen suggested it might be worth researching how many tax-acquired properties the town has on the books, and reviewing them all, to see which ones selectmen might want to hold on to, and which could be put on the market.

Trefethen said at the time there might be as many as 10 such lots. However, at the board’s May 22 meeting, he said he’d been able to identify just five properties taken by the town for back taxes.

By that time, however, one of the lots had been returned to the previous owners. Ronald and Barbara Maurice, of Biddeford, had been in to the town office and paid off the back-due taxes in full on a 10.11-acre piece off of Route 1 behind Fritz’s Lane. Selectmen have a policy of selling tax-acquired lots back to the previous owner for what was owed in taxes. Trefethen did not say how much the Maurices owed, but with the bill paid, he began the process of returning the property to them, he said.

At the May 22 board meeting, Jason Nedeau predicted pushback from residents over any eventual sales.

“Any profit we can make is good,” he said, “but any dollar amount you put forward, they’re going to complain.”

In some cases, Hayes said, there may be only one bidder, if that. For example, the River Road property, she said, is “only of use to the abutter or the railroad.”

However, Hayes said the abutter recently had his own property surveyed and has declared, based on the results, that the town-owned lot must be smaller than 2.5 acres.

“He says that is wrong,” she reported.

Meanwhile, the 1-acre spot off Old Post Road is reportedly leftover land in a subdivision that “nobody wants,” — or, at least, nobody wants to pay taxes on, given the unlikelihood of it being developed.

At the annual town meeting on June 14, Arundel residents were slated to weigh in on approving a $375,000 deal to buy 35 acres of land on Limerick Road, with 29 acres going to the newly-formed Arundel Conservation Trust for $175,000. The rest of the lot is slated to stay in town hands for use as home to a new 8,000-squarefoot town office, estimated to cost roughly $2.1 million in building construction and site preparation.

Selectmen are hopeful, they say, that revenue from sale of the four town-owned vacant parcels can be applied toward the town hall project. If all four sold for market value, it would more than pay for the town’s share of the land acquisition.

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