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Cumberland moves closer to deal to conserve nearly 150 acres

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Cumberland moves closer to deal to conserve nearly 150 acres

CUMBERLAND — The Town Council will likely vote this month on an easement that would conserve most of a 147-acre parcel of undeveloped land, Town Manager Bill Shane said last week.

The council will hold its third workshop on the matter with the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 7. The following week a public hearing and the possible council vote will take place. Both meetings will be held in the Town Hall Council Chambers.

The land is bordered on the northeast by Range Way and on the southwest by the Falmouth town line. It includes three strips of town-owned property totaling 36 acres that is abutted by land owned by Norton Lamb, with whom the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust and the town are negotiating the permanent conservation easement. Of the total acreage, Lamb has asked to retain 10 acres in the northeast corner of the property for up to four future house lots, and 20 acres to be used as pasture land for grazing animals and grow gardens.

The town-owned land consists of foreclosed property that is not generating tax revenue. Through the agreement, the town would give its land to Lamb, and the land trust would serve as the steward of the property, in exchange for the easement.

A 6,000-foot trail would be developed through the property, and it may later be extended into conserved land in Falmouth.

Because his land would be placed in a tree-growth type of conservation easement, Lamb could see a tax break of about 75 percent.

In October, the Lands and Conservation Commission voted to accept the proposal to combine the town's property with Lamb's, breaking out the housing lot and pastures and allowing Lamb to put the property into the conservation easement.

Future uses of the land are "really passive recreation areas," Shane said. "We're not going to see soccer fields, or tennis courts or any of that stuff in there. It's really a trail and just leaving it in its natural state. Very, very similar, almost a mirror image, of the Rines Forest (conservation easement)."

A working group comprised of Shane, Councilor Steve Moriarty and land trust members Penny Asherman, Rob Crawford and Jim Thomas is finalizing the easement agreement.

Shane said the town's portion of the land is assessed by the town at $200,000. If the town gifts that land to Lamb it goes back on the tax rolls; at a discounted rate, but more than what the town is collecting today. The 10 acres with house lots, which would not be part of the easement, would be taxed as residential property.

"That will be a net gain in property taxes to the town," Shane said.

He acknowledged that given the current economic climate, "this may not be the greatest thing to do right now," but that he expects the arrangement to reap long-term benefits.

"We're not making anymore land," Shane said. "This is one of those things where you look back and say, ‘was this a good thing to do,' and I have to say yes. Because we really don't have this type of open space on the easterly side of town ... I think it's a good thing, and I think it'll be a good thing for many years to come."

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.