Government Spotlight

Select board hears concerns, appoints slate of charter commissioners, moves on new loader and building demolition

[Joanne Cole]

Residents delivered a brushback pitch to the Royal River Conservation Trust and GNG Little League at the select board meeting Wednesday night, identifying a wide range of concerns about the emerging joint trails and ballfields project.  For its part, the board voted to take steps toward possible town ownership of a parcel to be donated by CMP that might support or connect to Lower Village trails. 

The board also made its charter commission appointments at the April 7 meeting and decided to seek voter approval in June for up to $50,000 to cover costs of demolishing and removing the former public works building in the Upper Village, among other actions.  But it was the trails and ballfield complex project that drew the public.  More than fifty participants joined the meeting on Zoom.

Royal River Conservation Trust/GNG Little League 
On the agenda were informational updates on the RRCT/GNGLL project, a collaboration to acquire 180 acres and develop trails in the Lower Village that would connect to an expanded ballfield complex in the Intervale.  Both RRCT and GNGLL had submitted memoranda included in the meeting packet online.

Even before the RRCT and GNGLL presentations, residents were primed for public comment.  The ballfield complex took heaviest fire, with its proposed scale—three fields, lights, sound, scoreboards, concessions, paved parking—and location in an area speakers described as a bowl or amphitheater and which is familiar for wetlands and spring flooding. 

Charles Gauvin described the expansion as a “commercial, regional baseball complex” at “what many consider the gateway to New Gloucester,” with “wetlands, the river, the hillside, the farms.”  As a nonprofit, it would add nothing to town coffers while burdening traffic and town services, he said.  Dan Pierce asked how “a high-impact use,” with noise from a PA system, lights, and paved parking squares with the town’s new Comprehensive Plan, which prioritizes preserving the town’s rural character. 

Abutter Tim Knedler—the ballfield complex would be in the Knedler backyard and side yard, his wife Lisa said—said he counted more than 65 cars in the existing lot and along the road last summer when only one softball field was in use.  He noted that the plans call for 51 paved parking spots to now serve three fields.  Others thought alternative locations would be more suitable.  Tom Driscoll suggested the fairgrounds. 

The Lower Village side of the venture was also called into question.  Resident Cathy Gregory of Gloucester Hill Road objected to a trail plan that includes “looping” through the cemetery.  Beverly Cadigan echoed Gregory and raised issues about parking.  Cadigan thanked Don and Lynne Chandler for their original vision to save some 180 acres in the Lower Village from development but objected to an “unacceptable expansion” of the joint plan, made without the community input the Board directed in 2019.

Field Rider, whose property abuts the 180 acres to be preserved, asked about hunting, a commitment of RRCT.  Rider doesn’t post his land and wondered about increased hunting pressure on portions of the 180 acres, if discharge of firearms is off-limits near expanded little league fields.  He also expressed concern about the town transferring tax-acquired property beyond the 180 acres, particularly for in-town parking.    

Yet others raised questions about the town’s role in the venture or about the partnership between RRCT and GNGLL.

When it was finally their turn, RRCT executive director Alan Stearns and GNGLL president Nate Stone sought to allay residents’ concerns.  Stearns reminded listeners of several successful RRCT projects and partnerships in New Gloucester, including the Pisgah Hill, Intervale, and Big Falls trails and conserved properties like the Waterhouse Farm.  He said the 180 acres to be preserved in the Lower Village would create a trail system, anchored by the Interurban, that will be “available to the community for free, for everyone, forever.”  He also said the organization would respect property rights and abutters, including the cemetery, and welcomes anyone interested to join its ongoing site walks.

As for the ballfields complex, GNG Little League president Nate Stone called the Little League’s designs “preliminary.”  He said the group intends to be good stewards of the land and envisions the project as both “a proper place” for girls to play—as girls typically get the short end of the sports facilities stick—and “a gateway to nature” for players, hunters, anglers, and birdwatchers alike. 

Stone outlined a timeline for the project, including state environmental and local planning board site plan reviews.  DEP and Inland Fisheries & Wildlife have taken initial looks, he said, and state permits might take two to six months, with planning board review in fall or winter and construction most likely in 2022.

“Nothing we have so far is set in stone,” said Stone.  He invited the public to a site walk April 21 at 5:30 pm.

When it was the board’s turn, they voted unanimously to move toward possible town ownership of the small parcel at the 231 end of Grange Hall Road, to be donated by CMP, with potential trail connectivity.  Vice chair Linda Chase described the CMP parcel as “a well-traveled trail” and said the snowmobile club might lose access if the town were not to acquire the parcel and CMP sell or donate to someone else.  Moving forward, according to the motion that passed, includes placement of the land acquisition on a town meeting warrant.

Demolition of former public works building 
The board voted to add an article to the June warrant for up to $50,000 to cover costs of demolishing and removing the former public works building in the Upper Village.  Public Works director Ted Shane reported that high winds recently tore off a significant portion of roof membrane, leaving the roof exposed and the deteriorating building subject to yet more deterioration. 

Shane said there’s a good chance asbestos is present, adding to costs, hence the $50,000 figure.  Board members agreed on the urgency of the demolition and removal and thought the property is likely worth more without the building.  But they debated the source of funds.  Peter Bragdon was adamant that funds not come from taxation.  Following discussion, a unanimous decision was made to draw from the town’s undesignated fund balance, subject to voter approval in June. 

Charter Commission appointments
In other action, the board appointed without discussion Stephen Libby, Donald Libby, and select board vice chair Linda Chase to the Charter Commission.  Maine law permits one of the board’s three appointees to be a municipal officer.  

Steve Libby and Don Libby are both former selectmen with long service on a host of boards and committees.  They currently serve together on the planning board and on the Capital Improvement Program committee.  Both were also on the recent Comprehensive Plan Update committee, but each resigned before completion of the committee’s work.

In all, seven citizens had applied for board appointment, including select board members Peter Bragdon and Chase.  Others were architect Dan Ellingson; former North Yarmouth, Pownal, and Chebeague municipal manager Scott Seaver; and former head of the Maine Municipal Association and architect of Maine’s municipal home rule law John Salisbury.    

Chase and the two Libbys were proposed as a slate in a motion by Tammy Donovan.  There was no discussion, no mention of the other candidates, and no rationale offered for the three nominations or for voting on them as a single slate.  Following Donovan’s motion, chair Karen Gilles appeared to call for a second that did not come, then proceeded to a vote, calling first on Chase.  Chase initially voted in favor, then after a brief exchange from Gilles about abstaining, asked to go last.  Gilles restarted the vote.  Donovan voted in favor, Bragdon opposed, Gilles voted in favor, and when her turn came, Chase abstained.  The final vote was 2-1 and 1 abstention. 

Earlier, during public comment, former selectman Steve Hathorne had asked specifically that Scott Seaver and John Salisbury be appointed as the most qualified applicants.  Hathorne pointed to Seaver’s work drafting town charters for other communities and to Salisbury’s writing Maine’s home rule law, foundational for all municipal charters.  Without naming names, former select board member Joe Davis had also urged the board to appoint the people “with knowledge of writing the charters.”  Voters will choose six charter commissioners in June.            

Comp Plan onto the June 8 warrant
Adding further to the lengthening June 8 warrant—it includes the budget—the board voted to put the recently completed Comprehensive Plan to voters for approval.  A public Q&A session on the June 8 warrant was proposed for April 26 at 7 pm.

New loader for transfer station
The board also reviewed specs for the new transfer station loader, assuming voters approve $125,000 for its purchase in the April 13 special election.  The proposed loader is larger than the one being replaced, and the question was asked if it differs from what the CIP committee approved.  Public works director Shane said he didn’t know, as he hadn’t been permitted to speak at the CIP meeting.  Assured that the new model would fit in the building, the board approved the loader specs 4-0.

Appointments and searches 
The board thanked and bade farewell to former town manager Brenda Fox-Howard, affirmed Sharlene Myers as Acting Town Manager, and appointed Kimberly Getchell to election offices usually held by Myers.  They also affirmed Kate Matthews as new code enforcement officer and opened bids for town auditor. 

The board accepted with regret the resignation of town planner Scott Hastings and discussed the search for his successor.  Chase commented that the planner search is on the interim manager’s contract.  She did not identify the interim manager or the contract.  As a departmental hire and personnel matter, the planner search will be handled by either the interim or the acting town manager, Chase said, not the board.        

Unity College expands at Pineland
The meeting opened with an upbeat report from Erik Hayward of Pineland Farms about the new Technical Institute for Environmental Professions that Unity College is establishing at Pineland.  Hayward said the program will offer associate’s degrees, certificates, and continuing professional education in “high-growth sectors,” including environmental engineering and solar energy.  Unity will occupy 40,000 s.f. of classroom and administrative space, Hayward said, with classes getting under way in September.  He said he expects the program will be a great resource for New Gloucester and the surrounding community.

Two and a half hours after Hayward concluded, so did the meeting.

To view video of the April 7 board of selectmen meeting, click here.  To access the agenda and supporting documents, click here.