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Falmouth council backs OceanView bid for school properties

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Falmouth council backs OceanView bid for school properties

FALMOUTH — The Town Council tentatively selected a proposal by the OceanView retirement community to purchase most of the former Plummer-Motz and Lunt school properties.

The proposal for the Lunt Road properties would create a close public-private partnership between the town and the its largest taxpayer.

OceanView has agreed to pay $3.25 million for almost all of the 21-acre parcel. A 2.2-acre lot that contains the Mason/Motz school building would remain town-owned, along with 2.8 acres of property between the school buildings that would become a public green.

The proposal comes after voters narrowly rejected a $5.65 million referendum last June that would have turned the Lunt School building into a space for Falmouth Memorial Library, created a community center at the Motz School and converted the Plummer School into a building available for lease to a private organization or business.

The deal is contingent on Town Council approval, currently scheduled for Feb. 15. According to council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce, councilors have reached a consensus that this project is the best of the three proposed.

"What it came down to was a couple of things," Pierce said Tuesday at Town Hall. "We're very divided on this, we're split, so we worked really hard to come to a meeting of minds."

She said that for some councilors, it was about the financial impact of the projects. For others, it was about maintaining public use of at least some of the property and maintaining the historic look of the Plummer building.

If the deal is approved, OceanView, whose current 75-acre property abuts the school properties, would develop 36 new apartments and/or townhouses and 35 to 40 single-family cottages.

The Lunt building would be converted into an Alzheimer's care and adult day-care facility. It would also include a new auditorium, which would be made available to the town for public use 40 percent of the time.

OceanView has estimated it will invest $25 million in the property.

The retirement community would commit to develop the Plummer building into affordable housing, senior housing, workforce housing, an office building or a community-based public building, such as a library or a pool.

"We're very excited," said Matt Teare of Seacoast Management Co., which owns and operates OceanView. "This is similar to what we've been talking about for a few years."

Teare said he is confident the apartments and homes will sell, despite the difficult housing market. He said the company recently added 15 apartments in its main lodge and sold all of them before construction was complete.

"Falmouth is a great community and has been a great market for us," Teare said.

If the deal is approved, the town will retain ownership of the Mason/Motz building. But it will have to decide within five years whether to sell the building to OceanView for $200,000. The town will not be able to sell the building, currently used as a community center, to anyone else.

The town will also maintain ownership of the 2.8-acre space it is calling the "Town Green." But OceanView has agreed to make improvements to the area, including possibly adding a gazebo and other landscaping.

"We're working together on this," Pierce said. "They're very interested in having us come to the table with them."

The town received proposals for the property from two other groups: Redfern North Atlantic and the Friends School of Portland.

The Redfern proposal, for approximately $700,000, would have converted the Plummer-Motz and "town green" area into a mixed-use development with a market, residences and an office building.

Pierce said some councilors were concerned that the Redfern development was not the same use as the surrounding area and questioned the financial viability of the plan.

The Friends School offered $1.3 million and proposed moving into the Lunt building and either purchasing or leasing the surrounding property.

Pierce said that while all three proposals were taken seriously, the net sale price and estimated tax impact of the OceanView plan – a total of $2.4 million after a five-year build-out, and $6.4 million over 30 years – as well as OceanView's strong history in the community helped the council reach consensus.

All of the council's discussions about the proposals have been in three executive sessions. However, on Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., the council will have a public hearing on the proposal.

"We're committed to hearing from the public and committed to being transparent," Pierce said.

The town has a Web page dedicated to the process, with documents and copies of all three companies' proposals: town.falmouth.me.us/Pages/FalmouthME_BComm/CommunityFacilitiesPlanningCom.

After the public hearing, the councilors will discuss the proposals in public for the first time and vote first whether to approve the sale agreement, and second, whether to use the net proceeds from the sale to build a community center, either at Motz or at a site to be determined. That vote is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 15.

Teare said OceanView hopes to work closely with the town, OceanView residents and members of the public in 2012 to finalize plans for the property. He said construction is unlikely to begin until 2013.

"We don't want to be insular," Teare said. "We want to be part of the community."

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