Changes likely to continue in 2013 for North Yarmouth

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NORTH YARMOUTH — Last year was a busy one for the 332-year-old town, and 2013 doesn’t look to be much quieter.

Votes on a revised charter, as well as the first phase of an economic development plan for the town center, could be on North Yarmouth’s horizon this year. A property revaluation is also expected to go into effect this summer.

North Yarmouth made headlines late last year for school-related issues. The Board of Directors of School Administrative District 51 – which North Yarmouth formed with Cumberland in 1966 – voted Dec. 17 to close North Yarmouth Memorial School, the district’s last school in that town, and move its fourth- and fifth-graders to an expanded Greely Middle School in Cumberland.

The decisions to close the school and fund the approximately $2 million expansion of the middle school are expected to go before voters in both communities in June. A task force’s recommendation on that course of action added fervor to a petition effort to start the withdrawal process from SAD 51.

Mark Verrill, a former selectman who led the withdrawal drive, said at an Oct. 10 hearing that his goals were to reduce property taxes, improve the quality of education, and eventually build a new school in town.

North Yarmouth voters rejected the withdrawal referendum in November.

Another controversy erupted when the Yarmouth Water District illegally razed a 19th century Baston Road home. The district, which had purchased the land on which the so-called Beckwith House stood, had Scott Dugas Trucking & Excavating tear down the unoccupied building in July.

Neither the district nor Dugas applied for a permit before demolition, and the North Yarmouth Historical Society was not notified, which was required since the structure was built before 1900.

The Board of Selectmen in October approved a consent agreement with the Water District that imposed a $20,000 civil penalty and assessed the district for nearly $12,700 to reimburse the town for legal fees and expenses.

Ricky Plummer replaced Clark Baston – the town’s road foreman for the Public Works Department – in July, adding to his existing responsibilities as public safety assistant. Administrative Assistant Marnie Diffin said last month that the town’s personnel committee is looking into merging Plummer’s two jobs into one formal position.

The Charter Commission, which is charged with reviewing North Yarmouth’s 30-year-old Town Charter and potentially recommending changes in the town’s governmental structure, began meeting Aug. 1. The commission, which is independent of the Board of Selectmen, has planned to gather initial input through this month and then prepare its preliminary report in time for a vote in June on a revised charter.

Diffin said she had heard talk of moving Town Meeting from its annual June spot to April, of expanding the Board of Selectmen from five to seven members, and of possibly hiring a town manager.

A property revaluation is underway and should go into effect in August 2013. The town is assessing properties at 110 percent of market value, and the revaluation is intended to bring that level closer to 100 percent, “so that what you’re valuing someone’s property is basically close to what they could get in the open market,” Diffin said.

Also on tap for discussion this year is a four-phase economic development plan for the town center, which could go to a workshop next month. The Economic Development and Sustainability Committee has gathered ideas for how to make the most of 114 acres of town-owned land in the village center. The committee’s recommendations could go to a public vote at the June 2013 Town Meeting.

A recommendation in the first phase is development of a triangular area of North Yarmouth into a more visible, inviting and active town center. That triangle, which in part houses Town Hall, runs from the intersection of Routes 9 and 115, down Route 115 to Parsonage Road, and back along Route 9 to the intersection of that road and Route 115.

The second phase would include development of a business park at the spent, town-owned Cassidy Pit, on Walnut Hill Parkway. A lot would be retained for a possible future location of Public Works.

A third phase depends upon closure of North Yarmouth Memorial School. If that happens, the committee calls for the town to obtain the title to the school building and develop it as a 37-unit elderly housing project.

A day-care component would be eyed for the space, and public rights to the library and gym would be retained. A nearby property would be retained for future use as an elementary school.

The fourth phase would see the Public Works site vacated, with the department either regionalized or moved to the business park. The area would be converted to affordable workforce housing, as well as cottage-style housing allowing people to downsize and retire to the town center area.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.