2017-12-01 / Front Page

11th hour fix needed for town hall move

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer

ARUNDEL — As the deadline looms to close on purchase of a 48-acre lot on Limerick Road destined to become home to Arundel’s new town hall, an 11th hour fix has been required to seal the deal.

During a Nov. 13 meeting, selectmen hammered out a dividing line for the property, now owned by Steve and Margo Emerson, with 10 acres closest to the road slated to stay in town hands and the rest due to be signed over to the newly-formed Arundel Conservation Trust (ACT).

Voters at the annual town meeting in June authorized spending up to $375,000 on the purchase, with $175,000 to be supplied by ACT for its share.

However, according to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, after the dividing line was set, it was realized the town has a clause in its land use ordinance forbidding the creation of “land-locked” parcels. All new property lots must have a minimum of 50 feet of road frontage.

That prompted an emergency meeting Tuesday, Nov. 21. At that session, which lasted about 90 minutes, selectmen and ACT board members agreed to resolve the dilemma by adding a so-called “spaghetti strip” to ACT’s portion of the property.

That 50-foot-wide strip will start closest to the 1-acre lot owned by Toby Kracht, then wind around the boundary of the Kracht home to the northern sideline of the town lot, then run along that line to the ACT section.

In order to keep the portion to be retained by the town at 10 acres, the loss of the 37,100-square-foot spaghetti strip required that the line between the town hall site and the ACT conservation land be moved back slightly — between 25 and 50 feet. That meant moving the boundary off of a section of high ground, closer to wetland areas — a development some ACT members declared “disappointing” during the Nov. 27 selectboard meeting.

“We really wanted to work with the town to create something that brings us all together. This is an opportunity for us to create something really beautiful for our town, and our community members,” ACT board member Leia Lowery said. “We started out with that real spirit of collaboration and the meeting last time, I wasn’t able to be there, but I was a little disappointed in how that ended up.”

“We came to some agreement reluctantly,” selectboard chairman Thomas Danylik said, acknowledging ACT’s lack of enthusiasm for new placement of the boundary line.

However, with the final line agreed to, selectmen and ACT board members spent the balance of the Nov. 27 session putting the finishing touches on a “collaborative agreement” between the two entities, meant to govern rights and responsibilities of both sides going forward. After all, although ACT now has 50 feet of frontage on Limerick Road leading to its 37.67-acre backlot, it will not use that strip of land for access. Instead, the plan remains to have one driveway leading to the new 8,000-square-foot town hall, then leading from the parking lot there to a second parking area for visitors to the ACT site and its anticipated network of hiking trails.

That agreement stipulates that ACT will get to use unbuilt portions of the town hall property — unless and until utilized for additional construction, such as a police station, or other municipal use — for its events and interests, which could include (though not necessarily be limited to) a farmers market, community gardens, public events such as holiday tree lightings, a variety of festivals, or trail races.

Selectmen also agreed to provide on their 10-acre piece facilities for ACT, to include a deeded right of way to the trailhead parking lot, bathrooms open to the public from dawn to dusk, and lighting for the bathrooms and parking areas, along with “separate and distinct lighted” signage on Limerick Road identifying the ACT land and its access to the Eastern Trail and the Kennebunk River.

That access is a final sticking point to the deal. To gain rights from its lot to the nearby amenities, ACT needs to sign an easement deal with the abutting property owner, selectman Phil Labbe.

According to ACT board chairman Joan Hull, one reason the collaborative agreement between her group and selectmen is only now getting settled at the 11th hour is because their attention has been necessarily focused on getting organized as a nonprofit — now operating under the auspices of the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust — and in securing from KCT a $175,000 loan to fund its portion of the purchase from the Emersons.

Hull’s husband and fellow ACT board member said there had been some entanglements along the way, complicating that process.

“This seemed a golden opportunity to do something positive for this town, to preserve and pass on the heritage that we all love and enjoy here,” he said. “The goal was always to work together [with selectmen] on this. I’m a little disappointed in this, but I have a sense that collaborative spirit might have been lost slightly in the furor of trying to get things done.”

Both Hulls had nothing but praise for Labbe, despite the easement agreement with him being the one cog that could still spin off its flywheel before the Nov. 30 deadline stipulated in the most recent amended purchase and sale agreement with the Emersons. ACT members have said repeatedly they will not sign off on the sale until an agreement with Labbe is inked and town meeting voters did not authorize the town spending enough on its own to make the purchase without ACT’s participation.

“We are still trying to work out some of the final kinks,” Joan Hull said following Monday’s selectboard meeting. “But we are so lucky to have Phil [Labbe] in our community, who is thinking of the future and making it possible to connect this land to the Eastern Trail and to the river.”

“We’re hoping to get it done,” Labbe said. “Whether it happens by the 30th or a later date, it will happen.”

Labbe is not asking for any money from ACT to allow a public easement across his lot on two paths — one leading to the Eastern Trail, the other to the river — each said to be about 200 feet long. However, according to Joan Hull, the first draft of the easement deal, finalized just prior to Monday’s selectboard meeting, includes a prohibition on ACT cutting any trees larger than 5 inches in diameter to build its access trails, and allowance that, although the ACT trails will not be open to motorized traffic, Labbe family members will be permitted to cross them on ATVs in order to access both sides of their property.

“I don’t know that all of his family members really support the deal, but what he’s asking for is primarily all small things like that,” Hull said.

Selectmen agreed to hold a special meeting at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 29, to sign the final version of the collaborative agreement with ACT. Danylik, an attorney by trade, said he will finalize the language of that document as agreed to by both parties Monday night. However, because of the outside shot ACT’s easement agreement with Labbe won’t be complete before the November 30 closing deadline, selectmen debated asking for an extension — said to be at least the third granted by the Emersons since the June town vote.

However, it was agreed the Emersons have likely reached the end of their patience, having waiting out a couple of years of wrangling by town officials as they tried to settle on which property to buy for a new town hall site, from among several options on the table.

“I can certainly ask [for another extension], but I’m probably going to get yelled at,” Trefethen said.

Although at least two sites on Route 1, one already owned by the town, presented themselves, the Emerson’s Limerick Road lot won out in the end because it is centrally located in town, and because of support from residents who would go on to found ACT to preserve the bulk of the site as open space, with public trail and river access.

At Monday’s meeting, Labbe suggested offering the up to $15,000 for allowing another extension on the closing date. However, selectmen agreed voters in June had only OK’d a $375,000 purchase price, with the town to spend no more than $200,000 on its share of the deal, plus up to $50,000 for any surveying and engineering costs needed to facilitate the transaction. Most of that has already been spent, Trefethen said, leaving selectmen without a source of funding for any deal sweetener.

“I just don’t know that we we authorized to do that,” Danylik said.

Others on the board said it was time to finally close the deal.

“I understand the seller’s perspective,” Selectman Dan Dubois said. “I know there’s a lot going on here, but we keep pushing out, and keep pushing out, and keep pushing out. We’ve put dates to this and we need to stick to them. We’ve got to start holding people accountable to these dates.”

Attempts to reach the Emersons for comment Tuesday morning, before the Post’s print deadline, were unsuccessful. Trefethen said Monday night he would reach out to them and proceed with the intention of signing the deal by Thursday’s deadline, presuming ACT has reached a final easement agreement with Labbe by then.

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

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