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Discovery of uncharted land forces Cumberland to delay talks on conservation easement

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Discovery of uncharted land forces Cumberland to delay talks on conservation easement

CUMBERLAND — The discovery of about 30 acres of unaccounted-for land, near parcels proposed for a conservation easement, has forced discussion of the easement to be put on hold pending a land survey, Town Manager Bill Shane said Tuesday.

The Town Council held its third workshop on the easement with the Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust Monday evening. Shane had expected the council to vote later this month on the easement, which would conserve most of a 147-acre parcel of undeveloped land.

Bordered on the northeast by Range Way and on the southwest by the Falmouth town line, the land includes three strips of town-owned property totaling 36 acres that is abutted by property owned by Norton Lamb. The Chebeague and Cumberland Land Trust and the town have been negotiating the permanent conservation easement with Lamb.

But additional research into the properties revealed about 30 extra acres that had not been accounted for, most of which is thought to belong to the town, Shane said. That extra acreage essentially sandwiches the town properties, he noted.

"We're piecing the puzzle together now, and my recommendation to the council was that we basically have the land surveyed so that we know what actually we do have," the manager explained, adding that at its Monday, Dec. 14, meeting the council will likely table the matter, authorize the survey and then revisit the issue after more information is available.

"There's definitely more land there than is presently shown on our tax maps," Shane said.

The survey won't occur before the end of the year, he said. Shane was also unsure about where the new developments would leave the land deal with Lamb, but said other options might be available; for example, the town and Lamb could agree to swap their property so that both party's parcels are contiguous.

Shane said Lamb seemed open to continuing discussions with the town. He had asked to retain 10 acres of the total acreage in the northeast corner of the property for up to four future house lots, with 20 acres to be used as pasture land for grazing animals and growing gardens.

"(The property) may not end up in a large easement," Shane said, "but it may end up in a block of land that the town has and he has, and both parties could ultimately put a conservation easement on their land if they chose to do so."

While the town has assessed its portion of the land at $200,000, the additional acreage is of higher quality and could significantly add to that value, Shane said.

"It's a very large asset," he said. "It could be $300,000 to $500,000 instead of $200,000."

Shane said he thinks there is still support for the easement, but "the issue is that without the actual land acreage and without the actual values, it's difficult for anyone to make an informed decision."

The lack of water or sewer and close proximity to a significant wetland would make development of the town's land difficult, he added.

Still, he explained, the property has options. A lack of open space in that area of town makes it a strong contender for conservation. The timber value of the land could also present financial benefits.

"Every 25 to 30 years there's significant revenue that would come into the town if it was managed properly," Shane said.

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