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Falmouth residents praise OceanView plan, question funds for community center

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Falmouth residents praise OceanView plan, question funds for community center

FALMOUTH — The Town Council will hold a special meeting Jan. 30 to formally approve the sale of most of the Plummer-Motz and Lunt school properties to the neighboring OceanView retirement community.

The council will also decide whether to take a projected $2 million profit from the sale and put it aside for a future community center.

Comments at a public hearing Monday suggest there could be clear sailing for Oceanview, but a bumpy ride for the community center.

OceanView's plan is to add homes, apartments and an Alzheimer's patient unit to its existing facility. Approximately 30 people who turned out for a public hearing on the proposal Monday night, and about a dozen spoke.

"I don't think the town can find any better partner than the owners and managers of OceanView," said Skillins Greenhouse owner Mike Skillin, who lives on Lunt Road across the street from the Lunt School. "I think this expansion is just a great thing."

As part of the proposal, OceanView has agreed to pay $3.25 million for almost all of the 21-acre parcel, an increase of $750,000 over the company's initial bid.

The town will retain ownership of a 2.2-acre lot that contains the Mason/Motz school building, along with 2.8 acres of property between the school buildings that OceanView would pay to renovate, but that would become a public green.

The Lunt School building would become the Alzheimer's unit and would also include an auditorium, which the town could use 40 percent of the time.

The community center's location has not yet been decided, but as part of the deal with OceanView, the town has the right to develop the Motz/Mason building into a community center within five years of the agreement.

The town could also select a completely different location for the community center.

"I do like setting aside money," Middle Road resident Melanie Collins said. "I would like to see the ability to go into these buildings, so they're something everyone can enjoy for years to come."

Others were not as supportive of setting aside money for a community center.

"That $2 million profit, realize it, use that money wisely, then decide honestly whether or not we can afford an auditorium, or whatever public use might be in order," said Jonathan Berry, who sits on the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Berry also said he hopes one of the other bidders for the school properties, Redfern North Atlantic, will consider other locations for their proposed mixed-use project.

"I want this to be the beginning of a discussion (with Redfern), not just a blip on the radar years from now," Berry said.

Others, particularly neighbors, urged the council to be cautious about the project, suggesting the town perform traffic studies and expressing concern about an increase in after-hours activity if an auditorium is included in the plan.

A representative from the Friends School of Portland, which also bid on the school property, asked the council to consider allowing them to take over Plummer.

"We just ask you to remain open to private ownership," said James Grumback, who is the head of the Friends School.

After the hearing, the councilors commented briefly on what they heard.

Councilor Tony Payne said that while he initially supported setting aside the profits from the sale for a community center, the public comments gave him pause.

"We have to cover all the contingencies and we've got a lot of contingencies in the wings," he said.

Councilor Chris Orestis said he does not want to see the discussion about whether to set the money aside or use it immediately destroy the consensus the council has reached around the OceanView proposal.

Councilor Will Armitage suggested the council build caveats into the order that will allow future councils to use the money for something else.

On Tuesday, Councilor Fred Chase said he would not support an order that specifically sets aside the $2 million for a community center.

"We need to either give it back to the taxpayers or use it to pay off the (new elementary) school," he said.

The special meeting on Jan. 30 is at 7 p.m. in Town Council Chambers.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @emilyparkhurst.