2017-11-17 / Front Page

Arundel divvies up land purchase

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


At a Monday, Nov. 13, meeting of the Arundel Board of Selectmen, Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT) board members Linda Zuke (pointing) draws the attention of board Chairman Thomas Danylik (left) to a spot on a map of a 48-acre parcel owned Steve and Margo Emerson, due to be acquired by the town at a Nov. 30 closing, as they work out how much will be retained by the town and how much will go to ACT. Flanking Zuke are, from left, Selectman Velma Hayes, ACT board members Dorothy Gregoire and Leia Lowery, and Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault. It was agreed the town will take the 10 acres closest to Limerick Road and abutting the property of Thomas Kezar while ACT will obtain the rest as the first acquisition of the newly-formed group, which currently operates under the auspices of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. (Duke Harrington photo) At a Monday, Nov. 13, meeting of the Arundel Board of Selectmen, Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT) board members Linda Zuke (pointing) draws the attention of board Chairman Thomas Danylik (left) to a spot on a map of a 48-acre parcel owned Steve and Margo Emerson, due to be acquired by the town at a Nov. 30 closing, as they work out how much will be retained by the town and how much will go to ACT. Flanking Zuke are, from left, Selectman Velma Hayes, ACT board members Dorothy Gregoire and Leia Lowery, and Town Clerk Simone Boissonneault. It was agreed the town will take the 10 acres closest to Limerick Road and abutting the property of Thomas Kezar while ACT will obtain the rest as the first acquisition of the newly-formed group, which currently operates under the auspices of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust. (Duke Harrington photo) ARUNDEL — As one of the final puzzle pieces to fall into place leading toward the scheduled Nov. 30 closing on a new town hall site on Limerick Road, Arundel selectmen worked out with members of the newly-formed Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT) how two entities will divide the 48-acre parcel.

It took about 20 minutes of debate, given that the town’s contracted engineering firm, Sebago Technics of South Portland, has found much of the property to be in low-lying wetlands and both groups wanted to lay claim to as much of the high ground closest to Limerick Road as possible. However, it was finally decided that that town will retain the 10 acres closest to the road and abutting the property of Thomas Kezar, while ACT will get the rest as its first acquisition.

At the annual town meeting in June, following several years of selectboard searching for potential sites to relocated town hall, voters agreed to buy the Limerick Road property from Steve and Margo Emerson for $375,000, with $175,000 provided by ACT, a new coalition of town residents founded specifically for that purpose.

The town considered several smaller properties, including at least two on Route 1, one of which is already owned by the town. But ACT members backed the Limerick Road site in part because of its central location, but also in hopes of protecting the majority of the lot from future development, and to use it as a safe point of public access to both the Eastern Trail and Kennebunk River.

Organized under the auspices of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust, ACT has obtained a line of credit through that group and will begin fundraising over the next year, ACT board members say, to pay back that loan and to stockpile a nest egg with which to maintain the property and to begin protecting other prime rural spots in town from future development.

The town, meanwhile, will press its portion of the purchase into use as home to a new 8,000-square-foot town hall — a project projected in 2014 to cost $1.4 million. Sebago Technics has said the property will also require about $610,000 in site preparation work before hammers can swing on a new town hall.

In February, Town Manager Keith Trefethen said selectmen currently have “slightly over $300,000” to start the project, using funds set aside annually in a town office reserve account. In August, the board augmented that fund with nearly $175,000 netted from the sale of four vacant lots taken over the years for unpaid property taxes.

In the past, selectmen have said a new town hall location would require anywhere from four to eight acres. One of the problems with the current town office, apart from the cramped — and some have said dilapidated — condition of the building itself, is that the lot, located next to the fire department, has no room for expansion. Selectmen have not settled on retaining 10 acres of the Emerson property as a hedge against future needs. One possibility, selectmen have said, may be the addition of a police station, if the town ever grows beyond its current need for two contracted deputies from the York County Sheriff’s Office.

“We don’t know what the future growth is going to be, but this town has kicked itself in the butt for years and years because they haven’t bought this, or they haven’t bought that, and things have grown,” Selectman Dan Dubois said. “Here’s an opportunity to make sure we set things up for the future growth of this town and we don’t come back down the road and say, ‘Jeesh, those selectmen back in 2017 really screwed this up.’”

“We’re not building there tomorrow,” Selectman Phil Labbe said, of the retained acreage behind where the new town hall will go. “And we may never.”

“That may just stay there completely as is, with just a road going across it to your property. We don’t have a crystal ball,” Dubois told the three ACT board members on hand for the negotiation — Dorothy Gregoire, Leia Lowery and Linda Zuke.

“When the original picture came into play, we did not realize we were going to be pushed that much further back [from the road],” Zuke countered, telling selectmen, “This is just pushing us back so that our portion is not starting until we hit the wetlands, basically. We just don’t want to give up all the high ground we thought we were getting.”

The final line agreed to by both parties splits an area of high ground down the middle. Selectmen also agreed verbally to allow ACT to use its portion, as well as another area behind where the new town hall will go, for “on-grass” parking and space for tents and other needs ACT may required for any future festivals or other special events in might put on. ACT also gets a low area near the town hall it can groom in the winter for pond hockey and other recreational skating.

“This is a collaboration between us and ACT,” Dubois said. “We don’t want to say, ‘Here’s our piece, guys. Now get out of here, we don’t want anything more to do with you.’ We don’t want to do that and the town certainly doesn’t want us to do that.”

“We just want to make sure we get our land legally in our name now,” Labbe said. “You folks on your committee, down the road, are going to change over time. This board is going to change over time. And what we promise and do tonight might not happen 20 years from now. So, we want our land now.”

“The whole point is that all of this is for the community. At the end of the day, that’s all of our missions,” Lowery said, agreeing with Dubois that the proposed split, while it does move to town ownership some of the high ground ACT thought it was getting, does still give it a parking area as close as can be had to the new town hall.

“The demographics of this town is not young,” she said. “And this property is for everyone, the whole town, not just the young.”

Monday’s talks were held in open session. As late as its Oct. 23 meeting, selectmen has been meeting with ACT members in executive session. However, selectmen have since agreed to conduct talks involving the property in public.

Maine law allows closed-door talks for real estate deals “only if premature disclosures of the information would prejudice the competitive or bargaining position” of the town.

Board Chairman Thomas Danylik said in a Nov. 7 interview that the board had decided that, given the property, purchase price, and involved parties is in the public domain, having been agreed to by voters, the interests of taxpayers are not served by continued secret sessions.

The board held a Nov. 6 special meeting at which it signed an updated new purchase and sale agreement, setting a Nov. 30 deadline for the deal, as well as Monday’s apportionment debate, in open session.

The only cog that remains to be put into gear is a side agreement between ACT and Labbe, who owns an abutting lot between the section of the Emerson land the conservation group will get and the Eastern Trail and Kennebunk River. To get from its land to the nearby outdoor amenities, ACT will need to build a pair of trails, each roughly 200 feet long, across a corner of Labbe’s property.

Labbe says he has already agreed in principal to grant that easement at no cost to ACT.

“That’s still kind of limbo right now,” he said after Monday’s meeting. “I haven’t done much with it until we figured out how the land is to be divided and and the town has actually made the purchase.

“There will be some guidelines they are going to have to live with, obviously, because my family, three of my kids and the grandkids, live on that land,” Labbe said. “We have a verbal. I’ve agreed to do it. I’m not looking for money. But we are going to have to have some surveying and some deed work and stuff like that.”

However, ACT members say an agreement with Labbe has to be inked before they will sign their names to the closing, set by the Emersons after several town delays, for no later than Nov. 30.

Trefethen has linked those delays to his inability to find a property appraiser with time enough to review the parcel, and, in the latest iteration of the purchase and sale agreement, the Emersons agreed to waive the requirement for a current market valuation of the land.

Still, the need to settle with Labbe could not only gum up the works, it could throw it completely off the skids.

“We have said it time and time again — we will not do this deal if we don’t have that [easement],” Lowery said.

Still, the ACT board members say they do not mean to push Labbe into a corner, as long as they can get a signed agreement that the easement will be given, once surveys are set and deeds amended.”

“I feel confident that we can get this done before the deadline. I really do,” Gregoire said.

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

Return to top